Lt. Col. Sam A. Robertson in the Great War

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"The transportation situation in France was so acute in the early days of America's participation in the war , that little growth in the Army could take place until a system was built up for transporting vast numbers of men and vast quantities of supplies needed to feed and equip our fighters, One of the earliest requests of General Pershing was to send over railroad engineers. The lack of cars and engines also made the situation critical. Sixty thousand railroad engineers served in France and a very large number of engines and cars were sent overseas and used in American Sevice. During the war, this branch of service was of inestimable value in carring men and freight to the front, and later ports of debarkation. In times of urgent need, i.e. when new troops were needed at once to replace those stricken with influenza, when the British were in acute need of barbed wire, when lightning shifts of men were needed in the Argonne Offensive, the railroad engineers performed notable service. General Pershing in his report to the Secratery of War says of the Engineer Corps. "The work has required large vision and high professional skill, and great credit is due their personnel for the high proficiency that they have constantly maintained."[1][2]
Major Sam Robertson

Lt. Col. Sam A. Robertson in the Great War


Mexico, 1916

In 1916 Sam Robertson served as a scout for General Frederick Funston (November 9, 1865 – February 19, 1917) also known as Fighting Fred Funston, then in command of the Southern Department of the Regular Army when it went into Mexico in pursuit of bandits. Sam A. Robertson became a scout for Gen. Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa during the Pancho Villa Expedition - “During the period of these raids, Sam made many trips into the interior of Mexico on one pretext or another, but the reality was he was doing undercover work for the Army”

John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948) would become the commander of American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, 1917–18.

It was around this time that Sam Robertson made the acquaintance of Col. Robert Lee Bullard who would remain a lifelong friend. Col. Bullard was in command of 26th Infantry of the Regular Army which had been assigned to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to counter the aggression of Mexican Bandits on the border. Col Bullard would become Lt. General in command of the 2nd Army, A.E.F.

“One of these trips took him into the cities of northwestern Mexico, where he was seated at a table at a hotel or eating place, when this bandit leader and several of his officers entered and sat at an adjoining table. Sam was so well disguised that the bandit, General de la Rosa, a former beef purveyor for the St. Louis, Mexico & Brownsville R.R., did not recognize him. Sam made his getaway as soon as it could be done without attracting attention.”
"On another of his trips, he made notes of the location of bridges, including approximate height and length on the railroads between the border and the City of Mexico. Some of this information he smuggled across the border with the help of a Black Pullman Porter, who had been a soldier in the U.S. Army.”

January 1917

“On 'January 1917, when on one of these expeditions, he met an old acquaintance of many years before, by the name of Tom Jones, a Welshman, who for a number of years had been prospecting over Mexico, Central America, and as far south in the Andes of South America as the Republic of Chile. Guadalajara. Returning to Guadalajara, he met Jones on March the 1st 1917. They started immediately to the mountains of Jalisco, Mexico outfitting at a place called Ameca, which was the end of the railroad. They second day out from the railroad they were attacked by a group of eleven bandits, who first killed Jones then attempted to drag Robertson to death attached to a lariat attached to the saddle-horn of the bandit leader.”

The Brownsville Herald gave the following account:

"Sam Robertson, widely known citizen of San Benito and president of the San Benito & Rio Grande Valley railroad on his arrival from Mexico at Nogales Arizona has had his closest call with Mexican bandits, and is now en route home from Nogales leaving there Sunday. Twice before, on the lower border, Mr. Robertson nearly lost his life in fights with Mexican bandits, but suffered nothing more than a bullet hole through his hat, and a bullet hole in the back of an automobile seat, a seat he had given up only a couple of seconds before.
"Mrs. Sam A. Robertson (Adele) at San Benito Saturday received a message from Mr. Robertson confirming press reports of his escape from bandits after being roughly handled to within an inch of his life. His money and valuables were gone and he was forced to telegraph home for transportation.
"Thomas Jones, a British subject, a member of Mr. Robertson’s party, was killed by the bandits. E.R. Coffey, with Mr. Robertson, was given the same treatment as Mr. Robertson.

Press reports from Nogales give the following account of Mr. Robertson’s experience:

“With scars searing their necks, clothed in rags and ill from exposure, E.R. Coffey and S.A. Robertson staggered into army headquarters here today and told their story. Robertson, a mining and business man of San Benito, Texas, acted as spokesman and said: We were prospecting in the vicinity of Mascota on March 2, and when night came on took refuge in a small hut. A few hours later five bandits entered. They took all our money and then fired at least ten bullets into Jones. “We will make Chinamen out of the two gringos before we kill them”, said the leader of the band. They secured lariats and noosed them around our necks” They then tied the ends around the horns of their saddles and started a wild ride through the little village. We managed to keep from being strangled by grasping the rope close to our necks.”
“Natives of the villages kicked and stoned and beat us. One of the riders dropped his machete and Coffey grabbed it, cut his own rope and then slashed mine. Three of the bandits had ridden some distance ahead. The two who had dragged us turned quickly. Coffey ran one of them through and brained the other. We mounted their horses and distanced the other bandits. We made our way to Port Manzanillo and there embarked for Mazatlan. There we entrained for Nogales.”

Robertson and Coffey, guided through the jungle by the Colima Volcano, hopped a logging train from Colima to Manzanillo. In 1908, President Porfirio Diaz designated Manzanillo as an official port of entry to Mexico from the orient. It was the state capital of the state of Colima while Pancho Villa’s troops were threatening the City of Colima.

"From here Sam and Coffey embarked on a schooner of Chinese tourist to Mazatlan which is about two days by sea. Mazatlan was a German colony in the 19th century and home to many German nationals. In Mazatlan assistance was rendered by a Scotch-Mexican, Mr. Douglass. There Robertson and Coffee’s many wounds were treated by Dr. Renee, a Frenchman. Then they entrained on the Southern Pacific of Mexico assisted by the train crew.

Sam Robertson was met at Nogales by Epes Randolph, president of the Southern Pacific of Mexico, and accompanied to Tucson where he recuperated before returning home. At the time Randolph resided at the grand old Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson.

January 19, 1917

It was at this time Sam Robertson came to the realization that the Germans were instigating the so-called Bandit Wars.The release of Zimmermann's telegram inflamed American public opinion and helped to build momentum for a US declaration of war, which occurred on April 6, 1917.

The decoded telegram is as follows:

"We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace."

April 2, 1917

President Woodrow Wilson appears before the U.S. Congress and gives a speech saying "the world must be made safe for democracy" then asks the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

April 6, 1917

The United States of America declares war on Germany.

"The men on whom fell the largest burden of making American troops self-sufficing in the first half-year of war, were the nine regiments of engineers recruited in nine chief cities of America before General Pershing sailed. They were officered to a certain extent by Regular Army engineers, but more by railroad officials who were recruited at the same time from all the large railroads of America.
"And they operated what roads they found, and built more, till finally, after a year, during which they had assistance from the army engineers and a fair number of labor and special units, they had created in France a railroad equal to any one of the middle-sized roads of long standing in this country, with road-beds, rolling-stock, and equipment equal to the best, and railway terminals which, in the case of one of their number, rivalled the port of Hamburg.
"These were the men who were first to arrive in Europe after General Pershing, who beat them over by only a few days. They were not fighting units so that they did not dim the glory of the Regulars, though they had the honor to carry the American army uniform first through the streets of London.
"They were the first of the army in the battle-line, too, though again their civilian pursuit, though failing to serve to protect them against German attack, deprived them of the flag-flying and jubilation that attended the infantrymen and artillerymen in late October.
"But though their public honor was so limited, their private honor with the Expeditionary Force was without stint. It was "the engineers here" and "the engineers there" till it must have seemed to them that they were carrying the burden of the entire world.
"On May 6, 1917, the War Department issued this statement: "The War Department has sent out orders for the raising, as rapidly as possible, of nine additional regiments of engineers which are destined to proceed to France at the earliest possible moment, for work on the lines of communication.... All details regarding the force will be given out as fast as compatible with the best public interests."
"The recruiting-points were New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. It was the job of each city to provide a regiment. And it became the job of the great railway brotherhoods to see that neither the kind nor the number of men accepted would cripple the railways at home.[3]


Still bearing gunshot wounds to his face, and rope burns that discolored his neck he proceeded to Washington to volunteer for service May 17th, 1917. He was able to convince those in authority that men of his experience would be needed in France. (His prior relationship with Pershing and Bullard was most likely a plus) He was fifty years old at the time. In a May 25th, 1917 clipping from a Valley newspaper it reports Sam Robertson telegraphed his wife, Adele Robertson, from Washington informing her he had passed his medical examinations and was assigned a commission in the “Engineering Corps”.

Shortly thereafter Sam Robertson was assigned to the “Sixth railroad construction regiment” in Detroit Michigan with the rank of Major. Many of his old Irish, Black and Tejano construction workers followed suit. His friend, Nowa Morrow, colored his white hair bright red and “represented” his age as under forty-five to serve with Sam. Henceforth he was known as “Red”. Morrow, who had worked for Sam on the construction of the St. Louis, Mexico & Brownsville R.R., became a Master Engineer with the 16th Engineers. When Sam was promoted to the 22nd Engineers “Red” transferred with him. He died at Sam’s side the morning of Armistice Day, Nov. 11th, 1918.


Major Sam A. Robertson
"The Regiment, first known as the 6th Regiment of Reserve Engineers under the National Defense Act of 1916, was under Lt. Col. Harry Burgess, District Engineer of the Great Lakes region who was stationed in Detroit at the time. He started in early March 1917 recruiting military officers and railroad experts supposedly for service along the Mexican Border. In April 1917, War with Germany was declared and the War Department wanted Engineer Regiments for immediate service in France to build the rail lines needed for the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.).[4]
" In May, advertisements in the local newspapers for skilled tradesmen appeared, applicants were selected and told they would be contacted when needed. The Old Customs House at the corner of Griswold and Larned Streets served as the Regimental Headquarters until the unit reported to the Michigan State Fairgrounds. In late May, troops started to arrive at the Michigan State Fairgrounds at Woodward Ave and Eight Mile Road. The early soldiers would get most of their army clothing but many performed drills in their civilian clothes until June when more supplies finally came in.


“As recruiting was going on, a former scout for General Funston on the Mexican Border, Sam Robertson, came to Detroit to interview Colonel Burgess, wishing to become a non-commissioned officer in the Regiment. The Colonel, however, sent him to see Mr. Felton in Chicago, asking that he be recommended for a commission as Major. [6]
"He returned to Detroit as a Major and was made Commander of the Second Battalion, immediately taking an active part in the recruiting, which took a decided upturn. Major Robertson furnished the regimental staff practical field service experience of a high order, obtained under both General Funston and General Bullard, and when he arrived at the Regiment, his face was still scarred from the bullets and ropes of Mexican bandits who attempted his life in Mexico. On May 31, with the Regiment recruited to 1089 men and with 37 officers, the word was received that uniforms would be delivered by June 1, and arrangements were made to muster in the "reservists" in a succession of groups and to assemble the Regiment as quickly as possible at the Michigan Fair Grounds.”(Sixteenth Engineers (Railway) American Expeditionary Forces 1917-1919)[7]

America had the manpower but did not have the military resources to equip its soldiers in 1917. During the month of June in which recruiting was the principal activity, it was impossible to obtain uniforms for the Regiment, and many were in civilian clothes.

June 25, 1917

The first American troops land in France.

June 26, 1917

The Regiment’s equipment were odds and ends from the Civil War up through the Spanish-American War, some soldiers went to France in civilian clothes. The rifles issued after June 26th were obsolete Spanish-American War era Krag-Jørgensens.Many essentials were missing and camp kitchens and kitchen equipment had to be leased from local churches. It took months to remedy the shortages as they developed, and some of the equipment did not reach the Regiment until long after its arrival in France. This would be an ongoing problem throughout the war- from uniforms, building supplies to major equipment.

As a civilian Major Sam had garnered respect from “his men” because of his clarion dedication to their personal safety, comfort, and wellbeing. To Sam being well nourished was integrative to wellbeing.

“The problem of running the mess, and housing problems in general, were assigned to Major Sam Robertson. With no camp kitchens or mess kits at the start, it was necessary to conduct a regimental mess, using the leased kitchen equipment. As in everything this officer tackled, he got results. He slashed red tape and hampering regulations wherever necessary to do so. In no time at all he had tinsmiths, blacksmiths, and plumbers, with no previous culinary experience, cooking the items of the crude Army mess, such as potatoes, beans, bacon, dried apricots, prunes, rice, etc., into a palatable balanced diet with a long line of "seconds" bearing testimonial as to its excellence.[8]
"After a time mess-kits arrived. These were rather tricky affairs, consisting of an aluminum kidney shaped cup with hair-trigger handle, an aluminum oval-shaped pan, designed for stew and—stew, a flat cover, a spoon, and a rather superfluous knife and fork. After a few days' experience, it was possible to balance a ladle of stew, cornbread, and syrup, and a pint of boiling coffee, without a mental hazard.[9]
"To make the change to Army rations less abrupt, local war workers often supplemented the regular mess with ice cream, pies and cakes, and these groups of women will always be remembered gratefully[10]
"The Sixteenth Engineers were particularly fortunate in having a good friend in Mrs. John H. Poole, who showed her interest in the organization in a way that both officers and men will always remember with a deep appreciation. Before the Regiment left Detroit, Mrs. Poole generously provided all the equipment necessary to keep the men interested during the spare time they had at their disposal. Not only did the Regiment have all the materials for sports, such as football, baseball, and boxing, but also a splendid library which the men found very useful, particularly in a country where it was difficult to get any books or periodicals in the English language." [11]
The training of the Regiment in the shortest possible time was, of course, the one fundamental object. Due to the Military-Engineer Staff, which Col. Burgess had established when organizing the Regiment, he was able to assign the training of the Regiment to an officer ideally suited and capable of handling the problem of shaping a group of civilians into a Military Unit. Major John H. Poole, (U.S.M.A. Class of 1901) had been assigned to the 6th Reserve Engineer Regiment at Col. Burgess' urgent request. Major Poole after graduation had spent two years in the Engineers School of Applied Science; he. was then assigned to duty in the Philippines where he served three years and installed the water supply system at Fort McKinley. Later, as Superintendent of the State, War and Navy Buildings, Washington, D. C., he supervised the installation of heat, light and power plants. In 1910 he resigned his commission in the Army and for seven years devoted his time to the administration of iron mining properties prior to his assignment to the 6th Reserve Engineer Regiment. Major Poole combined a high degree of Regular Army military training and engineering experience. He was confronted with the problem of training officers as well as enlisted men. Few of the officers had had training other than a few weeks at Fort Sheridan. A notable exception was Capt. Tillinghast L. Huston, who had served in the Spanish-American War. Most of the officers were engineers, contractors, or business executives, but they required additional and immediate military training. Major Poole, therefore, opened an Officers Training School in order that the officers might remain a jump or two ahead of the enlisted men. They were trained in military bearing and courtesy, maintaining discipline, running mess, routine company work, sanitation, etc. They, in turn, supervised close order drills, manual of arms, guard duty, and discipline of the enlisted men. Frequent regimental drills and formation under Major Poole's direction showed rapid advancement in the training of all ranks.[12]

The beginning and early history of Company A (16th Engineers, Railway) was about the same as that of any other company in the regiment. The men originally assigned to A Company were recruited largely in Detroit, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Louisville, and Buffalo.

"It's "Daddy" was Captain "Til" Huston of New York and Cincinnati, who had seen active service and attained the rank of Captain, (2nd. U. S. Volunteer Engineers), during the Spanish-American War. During that period he had served as Assistant Engineer on sanitation and rehabilitation work in Cuba, and later was the contractor on extensive railway, highway, and harbor dredging projects. He reported for duty with the 16th Engineers on June 6, 1917, and was assigned to command Company A. At this time, Captain Huston was half owner of the New York Yankees (American League). Regardless of extensive business affairs and personal comfort, when war was declared he immediately volunteered his services for active duty with an[13] outfit which he knew would very soon be sent to France. From the day of reporting at the Fair Grounds until the Armistice, he made first, A Company and later, battalion and regimental assignments his full-time job.
"Captain Huston kept the boys busy with personal interviews, non-com meetings, (on land and sea), and the reading of a little blue book labeled "Private's Manual", while he amused himself with the compiling of the "Red Book" (?).[14]

As A. E. F. forces began to escalate, Major Sam Robertson began recruiting an assortment of key personnel. Among the new recruits, he sought were men experienced in railroad work that could handle gangs of “gandy dancers” in the field. Also, he drew upon acquaintances from the so-called “Bandit Wars” in the Southwest.

Among them, the eccentric “soldier of fortune”, Emil Holmdahl whom Major Robertson had met in Mexico.

Wanted- A Revolution

Holmdahl joined the Pancho Villa Expedition under the command of “Black Jack” Pershing as a scout while out on bail. He tried to re-join the US army but was rejected because of a felony conviction. In 1916 Jose Orozco, Victor Ochoa and Holmdahl were convicted on charges they were conspiring to violate the neutrality laws by smuggling guns to the Carrancista faction to combat Villa's forces. He was imprisoned at Leavenworth Prison.[15]

Major Robertson telegraphed Congressman A. Jeff McLemore and Frank Polk of the State Department on June 6 & 7, 1917:

“Won't you see the Attorney General and endeavor to get Holmdahl pardoned at once, Regiment needs his services badly and he will be more valuable to the country in France than in prison” Major Sam Robertson

Holmdahl received a pardon from President Wilson

On July 18th, 1917 Emil Holmdahl enlisted at Washington Barracks, Washington, D.C. with the rank of Private, then Sargent, in Company E, 16th Engineers. He was honorably discharged at the end of the war with the rank of Captain. Dr. Herman Knickerbocker was known for the funeral oration he delivered at the bier of his prospecting partner, and bookie, Reilly Grannan in Rawhide, Nevada, April 3, 1908. A series of telegrams were reported in the Houston Post June 16th, 1917 from Mayor Robertson to Dr. Knickerbocker offering him the rank of Captain if he would accept the position of Chaplain in the 6th Engineers.

Colonel Burgess received his appointment and commission as Colonel of the Regiment on July 13, 1917. The official name and number of the Regiment was changed to the "16th Engineers Railway. On July 14, the first Regimental Inspection and Review of the 16th Engineers (Railway) was held. Despite the brief time in training, the assembled Regiment presented a creditable appearance, comparable with regular troops. “The excellent results were due to the intensive and skilled training, the intelligence level of the unit, the enthusiasm of the officers and men, and the experience and zeal of Major J. H. Poole and Captain R. F. Fowler”.

On July 23, 1917, the Regiment was ordered to proceed to New York for duty in France as soon as possible. Sunday, July 29th, the 16th Engineers left from the railroad siding at the Michigan State Fair Grounds. The train left Detroit with 1,194 men including 41 Officers. Even though over 70 percent of the soldiers of the 16th lived near Detroit, the technological center of the country, they came from over 29 states and several European countries. [16]

Col. Harry Burgess, the commanding officer, was a West Point graduate and he became Governor of the U.S. Panama Canal Zone in 1928.

Future Brigadier General Raymond F. Fowler another West Point Graduate became Asst. Chief of Engineers for Supply during WW2 for the U. S. Army.

Future Colonel George Webb was the Chief Engineer of the Michigan Central Railroad before and after the Great War. He was later responsible for most of the construction of the Canadian Rail network.

Future Colonel Tillinghast (“Til”) L'Hommedieu Huston, co-owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1922, served as an officer in the Spanish-American War. He was credited with making major league baseball into a profitable industry instead of a game.

Future Colonel John H. Poole was the husband of Caroline Boeing, sister of Boeing Founder William Boeing. Laurens Hammond-inventor of the Hammond clock and organ and 100 plus patents, California Congressman Carl Hinshaw and Cornell Hall of Famer, Eddie Kaw were also in the ranks.

Future Colonel Sam A. Robertson was in good company.

July 31-November 6, 1917

Third Battle of Ypres, Battle of Passchendaele.

SS Tuscania

August 1, 1917

As recalled by the historian for Company D, Wallace J Howells:

"The next thing that stands out clearly in my mind is the wait on the Hoboken pier while the officers of the ship company and those of the Regiment made up their minds as to whether troops should be used on various jobs on the Tuscania vacated because of strikes. I overheard the argument as to the advisability of using the men, and our good old friend Major Robertson spoke up in his usual way with, "Like hell, you will unless you pay them." So, my comrades of the 16th Engineers, you can trace your steamboat pay to Sam Robertson."[17]... a supper of bread and jam and tea, was served. Following the tea and jam came the order that non-coms were to stay with their companies. This meant that all corporals and sergeants lost their bunks in the staterooms. However, it's an ill wind that blows no good. Passing the bake shop on my way to the hold, I found that a baker was needed. From then on, with the exception of one night spent as Corporal of the Guard, I worked in the bake shop for his Majesty King George V.[18]

The Anchor Line SS Tuscania at pier 54 in New York left at sunset on August 1st carrying the 16th Engineers to England.

"On July 31, 1917, at 4:30 P. M., A Company embarked on the Cunard liner "Tuscania" and was quartered on "E" deck. The ship remained between piers and the night was stifling on board. To top it off, the Limie cooks served tea for breakfast and tried it again at lunch—but "no go"—Major Robertson took charge and really got something to eat. At 7:30 P. M. on August 1, the ship cast off—all hands out of sight, but not without a peep at the Statue of Liberty as the Tuscania put to sea, with the Sixteenth "seeing the world through a port-hole." [19]
“Major Sam Robertson happened to go into the enlisted" men's dining room just as the men were complaining of the food being served. The Major found out that the food was of poor quality and immediately told the steward, in his true Texan style, to get better food on the tables. The troops did fare better after this incident.” [20]
16th Engineers boarding their troopship
"The liner ran aground on a shoal in Halifax, Nova Scotia during a dense fog. This meant that the Regiment was held up in Nova Scotia while the Tuscania was repaired.

This took nine days to complete so the officers and the men of the 16th marched all over the suburbs of Halifax to keep in shape. Finally, on August 13, the Tuscania and the 16th Engineers left Nova Scotia in a convoy and arrived in Liverpool England on August 23rd. They took a train to Camp Borden where they marched in review for King George V and Queen Mary.[21]

On August 20th mine bumpers were attached to the prow of the boat and the men were required to wear life-belts at all times as we were now in the "danger zone." Land was sighted off Holyhead on the 23rd but was just another day in the Q. M. as that detail took the Quartermaster Manual exams at that time. The Tuscania steamed up the Mersey River and at 9 P. M. tied up at the landing quay at Liverpool. All hands slept on ship that night, but in the morning the Regiment was soon on its way to Camp Borden, not many miles from London. After a day at Camp Borden the Regiment crossed the English Channel, but only after many ups and downs and many harrowing experiences was France reached at the port of LeHavre, August 26, 1917, and the Regiment became attached to the American Expeditionary Force in fact. However, it has been asked what became of the Regimental stores carried in the hold of the Tuscania. Captain Weeks with a detail of 57 men stayed with the ship at Liverpool and after a long and the strenuous job had the cargo of several hundred tons unloaded from the big boat and loaded into freight cars (wagons) at the wharf.[22]
"In the morning some of the men scribbled messages to be sent home by way of cable, and a two-man detail gathered 29 messages and paid 4L-8s-3 1/2d, (plus one penny tax), and saw to it that the cables were properly started. The first word of any kind of the Regiment's arrival overseas was received in Detroit on August 27, 1917.

From the Detroit News of August 27th.

"Michigan Regiment's Arrival Reported in Cable
"The Sixteenth Regiment of Engineers (Railway) which spent two months at the Fair Grounds in Detroit, arrived safely in England last Wednesday. A cablegram received this morning by R. H. Strohmer, 318 Columbus Ave., from his son, Sergeant Richard H. Strohmer, Jr., was the first news of the Regiment's arrival to reach Detroit. The Regiment, whose personnel numbers some of the most prominent engineering men in the State, left Detroit July 29th. No report of departure overseas was given out following the policy of the War Department in keeping troop movements secret. Col. Harry Burgess and Capt. Raymond Fowler, Regular Army officers, are in command of the unit."[23]

Howells recalls "On our arrival at Liverpool, Sam Robertson barged up to the chief steward, telling him, "Pay these men off and be damn quick about it, or I'll pay them myself. If I do, my money had better be waiting for me when we get where we're going—if anyone knows where that is."


"The Regiment was promptly loaded into coaches and moved to the British Army Engineering Base at Aldershot, known as Camp Borden. Detraining from the coaches early in the evening, while there was still light, the Regiment marched from the station to the camp behind a British band playing, "My Home in Tennessee." It sounded great. The tents assigned to the soldiers were the round British Army shelters, rather uncomfortable but livable if one did not mind where his comrades' feet happened to be parked. However, in a couple of days the troops got the sea out of their feet and were ready to proceed to Southampton.
"In the meantime, however, the King and Queen of England put on a party for friends at Aldershot, to which C Company was invited in the persons of Frank Jasinski, Joe Egan, Ed. Harper, Ralph Pecht, H. F. Douglas, and others. After C Company representatives, Egan, Jasinski, and Pecht had given King George an example of the pulling power of the Company in the tug of war events of the sports program, His Majesty presented them all with medals.
"He took a particular shine to Joe Egan and asked him if the States had many more soldiers as big as he was. Joe told him we had plenty more like him and that they were all coming over, which seemed to please the gentleman immensely. In fact, he said: "Oh, Hell! the woods are full of them."
"After stocking up with good British ale the Company and the Regiment proceeded to Southampton. At that port they loaded the 1st Battalion on the "Hunslett," a former German prize of war, the most efficient and obnoxious roller and pitcher in the[24] shape of a ship that history has any record of. In this Texas broncho of a boat, the 1st Battalion braved the English Channel and through the early morning mists of August 27 saw LeHavre in front of them. France at last, a month after leaving New York. After the tide came in the ship came over the bar and docked. The men were unloaded and led to their barracks, making their first acquaintance with Army bunks and chicken wire mattresses.[25]

The 16th Regiment was ferried across the channel from Southampton, landing at Le Havre, France, on Monday, August 27th, 1917. The 16th Engineers along with the eight other Engineer Regiments in France were there to build the infrastructure needed for the A.E.F.

Le Havre, "the Harbor," was the ancient and time-honored seaport for inland Paris, many miles distant. The first impression of France was most depressing. It was raining steadily. Almost immediately after landing, the Second Battalion saw three Hospital trains bringing in war wounded for transfer back to Blighty. At once the 16th was aware that they were getting much closer to the war. The men marched three miles to British Rest Camp No. 2 on the outskirts of Le Havre. It was completely equipped for billeting regiments and details en route to destinations or emerging from the Front for furloughs in Britain. The camp was reached at 8:00 p. m. and the men found a billeting system operating like clockwork, and a completely regulated commissary. The wet uniforms soon dried, and a pleasant evening was spent with the British Tommies at the Canteen where the ale and stout flowed freely.
"All was well in camp for the first ten minutes. Then it began to rain and with the downpour came the bugle call. We rolled off our chicken-wire bunks and reported under a lean-to for instructions as to the proper conduct in an English camp. After three such calls in less than twenty minutes, Major Sam Robertson's impatience with this verbosity came to a head. He had had no time to clean up—he had one puttee off—his shirt was open. After standing in the deluge listening to the death sentences hanging over our heads on the least infringement of camp rules, he scratched his head and said, "Men, all this means that it's going to put your in a sling if you don't do as you're told."[26]
"On the succeeding morning, August 28, 1917, the Regiment prepared to entrain for their final destination. At 1:00 p. m. they entered a French train, traveling across France with many long stops, going grandly in what the French call "on premier des Zouaves," soldiers' first class, which means third-class to fifth- class passenger coaches instead of box cars. As it was, the heavy and crowded train prevented normal rest. The Regiment on this train saw their first squads of German war prisoners being used to work on the roads. Slowly the trains made their way to Paris, which they circled on the Ceinture (Belt Line) tracks to reach the rails of the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée trunk line, heavily congested with traffic. Slow progress was made south for about a hundred miles to Nevers, and then the troop train turned southeast to Dijon, with a northeasterly. Enroute to France 43 run of about 20 miles to destination. There the Regiment arrived on the evening of Wednesday, August 29th, 1917 detraining from the tracks of the Est (Eastern) system at Til-Chatel, a tiny village in the Cote d'Or region. The long journey was over. The 16th Engineers had arrived, a month almost to the hour after leaving the Fair Grounds at Detroit. [27]

Til-Chatel, Burgundy, France

September 1917

"Til-Chatel was a small town with curious, war-weary French residents who had never seen an American before, when they saw the American troops marching into the village they were momentarily panic-stricken, they thought they were the Germans. Til-Chatel, Department of Cote d'Or, in the old Dukedom of Burgundy, was a small village of about 750 inhabitants. Located in the remote, bucolic countryside of France, it had slumbered with only occasional interruptions for many centuries, but the three years of war had left many visible signs of deprivations undergone by its people. The village was stripped of its able-bodied men, and the near-by farm plots were cultivated from sunrise to sunset by old men, women and children. Til-Chatel, with its cobblestone streets, the brewery, the hotel de ville (town hall), the medieval castle, the outdoor ovens, the tiny river Tille with its clear deep swimming holes, and the open-air community laundry, was the center of the best hop district in France. The Burgundians told the men that prior to the war much of the crop went to Germany for the brewing of the more expensive German export beers. These farmers went out into the country in the day time and tilled their fields, probably a kilometer or so away, coming back home in the evening for "la soupe" or supper. The typical home consisted of a house, stable, and barn, all of stone, forming a quadrangle back of a high stone fence, and in the center of the courtyard there always was a venerated compost pile.[28]
"When the 16th marched into Til-Chatel at dusk on August 29, the immediate feeding of the hungry troops without mess equipment, and billeting arrangements for the night, called for a lot of interpreting. Major Poole found many volunteers, some with high school French, some with college French, and some with the Montreal variety. Most of these interpreters admitted defeat after facing a barrage of the Til-Chatel brand, accompanied with beaucoup gestures.[29]
"The first regimental mess in France was here personally supervised, prepared and concocted by Major Sam Robertson, who was aware of the shortage of foodstuffs. A detail was sent out to find out where vegetables and such could be procured and the detail did return soon with vegetables aplenty. The Major prepared a regimental mess of "slumgullion" from little or nothing, that any man's army would be happy to get at any time.[30]
"During the 16th's stay in Til-Chatel, friendly relations were only occasionally and very slightly disturbed — usually due to soldiers' depredations, real and imaginary. The morning after arrival, the Officer of the Guard issued orders that a certain prisoner must be guarded with loaded rifle — he was being held for a general court-martial for a very serious offense. Later in the day, it developed that it was all a mistake. Pvt.___ , after celebrating his arrival in the village, got into the wrong courtyard and tried to crawl through a window into the house, instead of the cowshed he thought he was getting into. When the Madam of the household saw him, she yelled lustily for the Guard, who arrested what appeared to be a marauder, but, was only a poor city-bred soldier who, mixing vin rouge and cognac, had gotten lost in the country.[31]
"Every available house, barn, shed or chicken roost was used —all very ancient vintage, for billeting the Company. In the center of each barnyard as the crowning glory, the hallowed, mellowed manure-pile. A serious depredation occurred with Major Robertson’s orders to change the location of the manure-piles (the pride of a family for generations) from directly in front of a billet “to a spot where its fragrance was less overwhelming”. This brought on a serious diplomatic crisis involving all the village officials[32]
Diplomatic Crises
Later, one evening one of the men fell asleep in his billet with a lighted cigarette in his hand. In a short time, clouds of smoke rolled out of his quarters and someone turned in a fire alarm. As always, when something unusual was happening, Major Robertson popped up and at once took the situation in hand. He had a bucket brigade in operation and everything was under control when a Frenchman with a plumed hat appeared and marched up the stairs, waving his arms and spouting orders in French. The Major didn't understand the Frenchman but felt that he was obstructing progress, and as he didn't "Allez" when told to "Scram," the Major grabbed him by the neck and gave him the bum's rush. Along came the official French liaison officer (interpreter) who explained that the Major had thrown out the chef de pompiers (fire chief). [33]
"That fire in Til-Chatel! The old Frenchman, who had been chief of the volunteer fire department for at least a century back, rushed from the fire to get his badges proving his past services. How else could he successfully subdue a fire? This same gentleman owned the place in which the writer (Howells)...was billeted.[34]
"At that time (September 3rd1917) a "hard-boiled" General called at the Second Battalion headquarters and asked, "Where in the hell is that horse thief Sam Robertson?" Word soon got around that General Bullard and the Major had been pals back in Texas.[35]
"Bullard was busy setting up officer training schools in the south of France for American Officers, according to his diary, he was frustrated with the lack of spontaneity of The Quartermaster Department. “Many times, I attempted to secure something needed in the establishment of the schools or in the training or equipment of the troops and failed. Always the answer of our authorities in France was, "We cannot get it sent from home; it has been asked for repeatedly and long ago but not yet sent; no answer, no promise”[36]

Shortly after this meeting with General Bullard Major Sam Robertson was tasked with reconnaissance and assessment of front line railroads over the territories of the allied armies of Belgian, Britain, and France, from the North Sea at Westende, Flanders to Belfort on the Swiss border. This would-be Sam’s first encounter with the horrors of trench warfare.

The mangled ruins of the light railway

In the meanwhile, during September, the Regiment participated in long marches through the countryside, added in harvesting hops and “policed” the streets of Til-Chatel” in an effort to “harden” the troops.

"Probably every soldier in C Company had some French girl as a particular friend, if not in Til-Chatel, then Eschvanne, Is-sur-Tille or one of the neighboring towns. Then some of the hardier spirits made an excursion to Dijon, the old Capital of the Dukedom of Burgundy, and came back with wild tales of Dijon nightlife. Pretty soon the entire Company had been to Dijon to investigate the art museums of the town, the Cafe Militaire, Cafe De Belfort and the vicinity of Rue Louis Blanc. However, this was too much the life of Riley and so it came to an end by the establishment of Camp Williams, a city of Sibley Army tents, mud and more mud, the removal of the troops from the barns and[37]stables of Til-Chatel, and the beginning of Is-sur-Tille Advance Base No. 1.

In the Allied Commission consultations relative to American entry in the War, there was first an assignment of a Sector of the Front to the American Army, together with the assignment of ports of arrival, and the determination of the most efficient route of transportation for the Service of Supply between the ports and the American Front. As the American Sector was far to the eastward, and since the railway system of France radiated largely from Paris in all directions, a new rail route had to be planned between the Atlantic ports assigned to the American Expeditionary Force and the American Sector, which would not only avoid the congestion of the Paris railroad yards, but prevent further congestion on the already overloaded main-line tracks running from the West and South seaports to the North of France. [38]

Such a route was possible on existing trackage by using secondary lines, which could be further improved. It was also necessary to locate "bases" along this Line of Supply. An "intermediate" base was required not too distant from the receiving ports to which discharged cargo could be transported at once, and thereby prevent wharf congestion. This storage base or depot up-country would, in turn, require a relief outlet so located that supplies could be assembled neither too close nor too far from the American Front, this base to be known as the Advance Depot. A commission appointed by the Chief Engineer, A. E. F. carefully surveyed the planned Line of Supply and recommended locations for these bases. A final decision designated the Is-sur- Tille region, about 100 miles behind the American Front, as the location for the great Advance Depot.

Five kilometers away was Is-sur-Tille, the village of Is on the River Tille, a much larger and more important village with more cafes and a couple of hotels.

...and as the Old Song went—

"We policed the town, we swept the streets,
We made her look her best.
And then for a month or more' we did "Parade Rest."
We next went o'er to Is-sur-Tille,
They put us all to work,
They handed each a shovel and
They told us not to shirk."—
and how we did work![39]

Is-sur-Tille, Côte-d’or in Burgundy

A diagram of the railyards at Is-sur-Tille

"Is-sur-Tille was the principal advance depot and regulating station. The village of Is-sur-Tille is about 160 miles southeast of Paris and 95 miles south of St. Mihiel, at the northern terminus of the Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean Railway and the southern terminus of the Est Railway. Located within a short distance of all sections of the American front and upon the controlling railroad lines, advance depot No. 1 and regulating station "A," as these dual facilities were designated, distributed supplies to the advance section and the zone of the armies. Is-sur-Tille was the " neck of the bottle " through which, with few exceptions, supplies from the ports and base and intermediate depots had to pass. "[40]
"The decision to construct a large advance depot and regulating station at Is-sur-Tille was delayed until the French and American military authorities reached an agreement as to the exact location and plans for the work. On September 25, 1917, construction was authorized. The following day grading work was commenced by the 16th Engineers (railway), Col. Harry Burgess commanding, on what was decided to be the determining factor affecting the time of completion of the yard and depot, namely the removal of about 20,000 cubic yards of earth and 30,000 cubic yards of rock from two cuts required for the diversion of an existing main line of the Est Railway and for the tracks of the receiving yard." [41]
"To provide the facilities authorized on the initial plans required the removal of 30,000 cubic yards of rock and 90,000 cubic yards of earth, construction of 19 warehouses 50 by 500 feet, laying of 28 miles of track, provision of water-supply and electric-light systems, and numerous other auxiliaries. Under the general supervision of Lieut. Col. (later Col.) George H. Webb and Maj. (later Col.) Sam. A. Robertson, in charge of actual construction, a great transformation took place in a surprisingly short time."[42]
"When the Regiment went into tents at Camp Williams, the sunny French summer was about at an end. The rains commenced to break at nights, and later were continuous, with the camp streets slowly turning into seas of mud. Great areas of standing water were found here and there and the railroad cut at Is-sur-Tille became a small river. The men had only an issue of rubber ponchos and denim gloves, with no slickers, boots, or rain hats available from Quartermasters' stores.[43]
"That rainy fall the men would often come into camp at night after working in a steady all day drizzle. As no one had more than one pair of field shoes, these were soaked and would squish at every step. A Spanish American War Veteran in the Regiment solved the problem in a manner that was widely copied. A measure of oats, borrowed from the stable sergeant, when poured into the wet shoes at night would absorb a good share of the moisture during the night, and, in swelling, would stretch the leather enough to accommodate the entire foot in the morning. By drying the oats in the tent during the day, the process could be repeated as often as necessary.[44]

"The forces of the 16th Engineers were in November augmented by four companies of Infantry and one company of French railroad engineers employing about 400 German prisoners so that nearly 2,000 men were engaged on the work. In succeeding months the work progressed rapidly. The two cuts were finished and the tracks were ready by the 1st of January, 1918. Two track-laying gangs were organized and laid as much as 14, miles per day. [45]

"Standard warehouses 50 by 500 feet were built of light frame construction, sided and roofed with rough, irregularly sawed Swiss three-fourths inch lumber, and covered with tar paper. Later, when materials arrived in sufficient quantity, warehouses were sided and roofed with corrugated iron to reduce the fire risk. [46]

"On March 15, 1918, the yard and depot were completed and turned over to the transportation department for operation, and on April 5 the 16th Engineers departed for the British front, having completed, with the aid of the other troops assigned to the command, which at one time approximated 5,500 men, all the essential features originally contemplated. The construction work was then placed in charge of Maj. (later Lieut. Col.) Brehon Somervell.[47]

"The selection of Is-sur-Tille on the tiny river Tille, about 150 miles southeast of Paris and about 100 miles south of St. Mihiel, illustrious in the annals of the American Expeditionary Force, was due to the presence of a large tract of practically level country on the least congested of the few lateral railways of France's network. The American sector, as already mentioned, was far to the east in the Line held against the Enemy. France required her southern port of Marseille, while Britain used Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Le Havre was the port of Paris, and to the south were St. Nazaire, a desirable port, and Brest, less desirable because of the French railway system converging on Paris and requiring that travel from Brest to the American rear be via Paris and its congested railway main lines. But from St. Nazaire there was a luckily-planned existing lateral line from the City of Orleans to Nevers which cut out Paris entirely. Moreover, it would be possible at Nevers to construct a cut-off to keep the heavy American traffic out of the yards and city congestion of that place and establish a direct run to Dijon, far south and east. Thence the comparatively empty Est Railway trackage could be taken from Dijon north to Is-sur-Tille. From Is-sur- Tille towards the Front there were several possible ways to (page 54) distribute munitions and other war supplies on a last stage from the Advanced Base. The railway gauge in France on these lines was within a half inch of American standard gauge, and American locomotives and rolling stock could be run on all the trackage, exactly as the British were transporting whole trains by car ferry to Calais and Boulogne, thence to Amiens, and from Amiens to the British Front in the Nord, Pas de Calais, and Flanders, using British rolling stock and locomotives.


"The 16th Engineers were ordered to establish a camp conveniently near the proposed site, and then to construct the Advance Depot. In preparing for this work, surveying parties from the Regiment gathered data on the proposed camp and depot locations which was used by the American and French military authorities in preparing detailed plans for the new project. (page 49) Plans for establishing the Line of Supply and Base Depots included preparation for other important units of the army operation. Among these projects was the selection and preparation of suitable hospital sites. The first actual construction work undertaken by the Regiment was of this character when orders were received to rehabilitate a stone building in Dijon for the use of Base Hospital No. 17 (Harper Hospital Unit of Detroit).


US Army Field Hospital
"At approximately the same time, September 22, a detachment from A Company under Capt. T. L. “Til” Huston, was sent to Base Hospital No. 15 (MacKay-Roosevelt Unit of New York) located in the old French Cavalry Barracks just south of Chaumont (Haute Marne). [50]
"Aside from the Dijon and Chaumont detachments, the 16th was rapidly devoting its main efforts to the preparation of the Is-sur-Tille site. Since the march from Til-Chatel was inconveniently long, B Company was detailed to prepare a campsite adjacent to the Base Depot location. The land, recently beet fields and marsh, was drained, camp streets laid out, and officers' tents set up, while the grading of the depot site was started. The new camp was named Camp Williams in honor of the commanding officer of B Company, Captain Harry N. Williams, who was transferred on September 30th to the Transportation Department. [51]

Within a day or two after the start of the Is-sur-Tille project on September 26, 1917, Camp Williams was ready for occupancy, and the Regiment left billets in Til-Chatel for the tented camp.

October 1917

"There was a great scarcity of army tents in the United States, and the Canadian government had placed at the disposal of the War Department 50,000 regulation Canadian Expeditionary Force tents. This equipment was the source for the outfitting of Camp Williams and gave satisfactory shelter during the coldest of the wet and rainy weather ahead until wooden huts had been erected in January 1918. Camp Williams was occupied on October 1, 1917, and ultimately was extended to accommodate 17,000 troops by November of the next year. [52]
"Tent life in Camp Williams became rather comfortable after the issue of Sibley stoves in which the men burned foraged wood along with the low-grade slack coal which was issued as fuel. Each squad was assigned to one of these sixteen feet square tents—sergeants were allowed the additional comfort and privacy of having a tent for four. It was in these tents at Is-sur-Tille, more than in any other quarters during their Army service, that the Regiment developed a "squad-spirit" which was very pronounced from that time on[53]
"The project for Is-sur-Tille was very extensive, but no tools or equipment were available, as even now the picks and shovels purchased in the United States had not reached the 16th. French-made picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows were purchased, and steel bought for drills; "chedite," a low-power explosive of French-make was used for blasting rock, which had to be sprung by hand-drilled holes, to be sunk in the very considerable yardage of rock excavation.
"This inadequate equipment was to be used on 30,000 cubic yards of railway mainline rock cutting, along with 20,000 cubic yards of earth excavation needed to relocate the Est right of way past the Base site. On October 12, the rains commenced, and cold, wet weather, with mud everywhere, was to hamper the Regiment's labors until January. It should be mentioned that the Regimental command at this time was making frantic efforts to procure adequate equipment, and every part of France was searched for tools; and more especially for power equipment useful for railroad construction along modern lines, several officers of the Regiment being detailed to the work. Many of the items were purchased and others rented from the French railways until the Regiment was gradually outfitted. The time required to do this was so great that 90 percent of the rock and frozen earth excavation had been done by hand and removed by wheelbarrow before a steam shovel arrived.[54]

Lieutenant Colonel George H. Webb was Engineer of the project with general supervision, and Major Sam A. Robertson was in charge of construction.

The early days of the occupation of Camp Williams witnessed one or two interesting expedients. A Quartermaster Building was required almost immediately, and the Regiment set up a 50 x 250 ft. structure of poles, adobe, and thatch. Company kitchens and Officers' Mess buildings were made up in the same manner, due to the lack of structural material. A few horses were obtained for construction work, and during October a corral was built.

"Lieutenant Basil Pontey soon got a wood detail organized felling trees for the Regiment's first needs, timbers for the big Q. M. warehouse and for Robertson Hall ( a huge mess hall and utility building for the officers), and the much-needed firewood for company kitchens. Horses were added to the Regiment's belongings, so forage became an additional need."[55]
"One of the first working details at Til-Chatel went out on a strange mission—harvesting rushes for thatched roofs for the first building at Is-sur-Tille (no roofing materials were yet available). The search soon led to an old abandoned castle, dating back to the days of Charles the Bald. In the moat, rushes and bullfrogs were found in quantities, but only a trickle of water. The castle, the first most of the Regiment had ever seen, was like those in storybooks — a large barred gate and vertical slots in the walls for the archers in repelling an attack. One could easily visualize the heavy, creaking drawbridge that once had swung over the moat. [56](Frog legs for dinner!)
Robertson Hall

Another detail was sent to Orville, Cote de Or, to collect lumber for building construction WWI American Expeditionary Forces, Officer Experience Reports of Sergeant Ephraim Francis Jackson

"On Sept. 15th at Til Chatel, Sergt. Jackson was assigned to the reed detail of Lieut. Skinner for the purpose of supplying roofing material for the officers' mess and 16th Engineers warehouse at Is-au-Tille as no proper roofing material was available in France at that time, so it was necessary to resort to thatch.
"On Sept, 28th Sergt. Jackson was put in charge of the construction of the officer’s mess at Is-sur-Tille by Major Robinson who had direct charge of all construction at Is-sur-Tills. Sixteen Sergeants were assigned to Sergeant. Jackson with the express orders to instruct them in the proper method to handle men on the Is-sur-Tille work...completion of the officers' mess building which was constructed from adobe and stone and small branches of trees as lathe, (this again was due to the lack of proper building material) Serg. Jackson who had on Oct. 8, 1917, been promoted to Master Engineer, junior grade, was assigned by Major Robertson to take charge of warehouse construction at Advance Depot no.1. Later this was put under the supervision of Major Randolph, then Lieut./Randolph. Easter ---1 Engineer Jackson was detailed as the principal assistant to Lieut. Randolph on the construction of 19 warehouses 50 foot by 500 foot, 54 barracks 20' by 100' and a Balloon shed 52' by 100', the work was completed by April 1st. The following records were established on this construction work; -. The average time on warehouse construction 7 at 3.2 days of 8 hours each with 160 men, or 4096 man hours. (These buildings had 2 platforms 8' wide and 500' long and were covered with 2 ply roofing paper on sides and roof). The average construction time On the Adrian barracks, 256 man hours. after erecting the first three bents on the balloon shed, the average time of the erection of the remaining bents was one hour. Sergeant Ephraim Francis Jackson

From Captain George A. Lewis’ Experience report:

“The month of September was spent in drilling, during which time Captain Lewis acted as Adjutant, 2nd Battalion, under Major Sam A. Robertson (future Lieut. Col.). On October 2nd the regiment moved to Is-sur-Tille for the purpose of constructing a large supply depot and yards for the Advance Section. Major Robertson was placed in charge of the construction project and Captain Lewis was given supervision over all work of construction nature in the camp. He was assisted in this by Master Engineer (now 1st net Jesse H. Duke and the late Lieut. Barnett L. Hinkley (then a Master Engr.) Lieut. Hinkley lost his life during the Argonne drive in the fall of 1918. Under Captain Lewis's direction, some 155 barracks, recreation hall and Y.M.C.A. 50' x 167' was built as well as quartermaster storehouses, large stables, officers’ quarters and hospital units. He designed and erected a number of buildings known as the 'Lewis Type Barracks'-- a standard 6m x 30m barracks - the framing of which is very simple and can be used in the erection of officers quarters, hospital units or enlisted personnel buildings. This type of building proved highly satisfactory and is being used to a great extent throughout the A.E.F., especially in hospital unit construction.”'
'“ In addition to the duties as Supervisor of Camp Construction, the Captain was detailed to make a photographic history of the operations of the 16th Engineers and has been ably assisted in this work by Private Witham of Headquarters Detachment and Private Linstead of "A" Company. Due to their activities, there has been obtained a great number of interesting and educational prints showing the work of the Engineers in France and which will add considerable color to the part that branch of the service has played in the war.”

WWI American Expeditionary Forces, Officer Experience Reports, Sergeant Harry Wesley Ott

"Moving to Is-sur-Ville on October the regiment immediately set to work on building a camp and grading for the tracks in what was later to be one of the largest yards and supply bases in France. Sergeant Ott was placed in charge of a road building detail in the camp but as soon as these were finished he was removed to the gangs working on the roads about the warehouses. In December he was advanced to the grade of Master Engineer and given supervision over all of the road building on the west side of the yards. Narrow gauge equipment was used and rock hauled for a distance from a few hundred feet to one to two thousand yards. This work continued through the very disagreeable weather of the winter of 1917"

October 6 1917

" Washington–Pershing had been in France for months, and now had well over 60,000 personnel under his command in Europe. He was still trying to carve out a role for American troops and was preparing for the first of them to enter the front lines, which they planned to do in a matter of weeks. Congress promoted Pershing, as well as Chief of Staff Bliss, to the rank of full General. They would be only the fourth and fifth people to hold the rank in the US Army (after Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan), and would be the first to hold it simultaneously."

"October 20th gave the Regiment its first view of war's dirigibles when four of them were seen through the clouded sky. These later were identified as having been over England on a night raid and, returning, got into a storm and were limping back to Germany. One of them, the "L 49," was brought down by the French near Bourbonne les Baines. Up to that date, this was the first Zeppelin captured intact and the crew were overpowered before the "Zepp" could be destroyed. [57]

November 6, 1917

"The village of Passchendaele is captured by Canadian troops. The Allied offensive then ceases, bringing the Third Battle of Ypres to an end with no significant gains amid 500,000 casualties experienced by all sides.[58]
"It (the 16th) was officially a "maintenance" organization, which represented a special division of railway operation, while other regiments were assigned to railway "operation" and still others to railway "construction." Each type of regiment was supposed to have accumulated special personnel and tools for performing its own particular set of duties. The confusion at Washington and attempts to cut corners caused assignment of the 16th Engineers to construction in place of maintenance work and made completely useless practically all the tools and equipment assigned to the specialized unit and brought from the United States. Steam shovels were not obtainable, but an old and dismantled German steam shovel was discovered. The shovel had to be set up and fitted together by careful study when it was found that several castings were missing. An officer and drafting crew had to prepare drawings for these parts as best they could; carpenters had to make wooden patterns; and castings were poured in a Dijon foundry, machined, and adjusted and fitted to the shovel. By the time the shovel was ready, the work had already been done by hand and the Is-sur-Tille East Depot constructed. The shovel was a legacy to the successors of the 16th, who constructed the West Depot.[59]

Practically every form of engineering construction work was assigned to the Regiment from the commencement of its active duties, and as late as November 30, 1918, no maintenance of way work had been assigned to it.

Very early recognition of the efficiency of the Regiment brought the following letter from General Mason M. Patrick, Headquarters, Lines of Communication, American Expeditionary Force, on November 11, 1917, to Colonel Burgess:

"My Dear Burgess:—
"I want to say in writing what I was glad to be able to say to you on Thursday by word of mouth, that I was greatly pleased with the showing you and your good regiment have made at Is-sur-Tille. I have known the difficulties with which you are contending, but of course, they were borne upon me more strongly when I actually saw what you were doing, and the adverse conditions under which you were working. I hope you and all your officers and men will understand how thoroughly well satisfied I am with the progress you have made, and the excellent spirit with which you are working. Anything that I can do to help you will be done.
"I was glad to telegraph you that your steam shovel was on the way, and I hope it will not be delayed en route. Men go with it to erect it, and by the end of the week, it should certainly be in operation. This, I think, will greatly relieve the situation. In view of its coming, I suggest that possibly some of your men who are working on your great rockcut might possibly be diverted to something else, and let the steam shovel do what they are now doing by hand. More blackpowder has also been sent you, and when you get your proper equipment I know this work will go fast.
"I had your long endorsement about the unloading of the cars. I thoroughly understand all of this, and I want to repeat that there had been no specific complaints from any source that cars were not being unloaded as promptly as possible. The French were complaining of the shortage of cars, and my letter to you about this letter was merely to safeguard against any legitimate cause for complaint on their part. I hope you understand this.
"I am doing all that I can to see that Adrian barracks are delivered to you promptly. I hope to get you some very shortly. As I wired you, I can get any number of troops for your work, provided you can have tools and shelter for them. "I spoke to the Quartermaster about rain-proof garments, and he says he is having some made and is furnishing them as fast as possible. I assume you have requisitioned them; if not, please do so. I know there are here now a lot of rubber boots, and if they will be useful I think you can get what you want. It is quite probable that there is a considerable supply at Nevers.
"You must be assured that I know how hard you are working, your difficulties and that I stand ready to do anything that I can to assist you.
"Referring now for a moment to my letter of today about the change of plans for Is-sur-Tille, I am taking up with the railroad people the layouts at Lux and Crecey. They will be sent you just as soon as I can get them.
"Very truly yours,
"(Sgd.) Mason M. Patrick,
"Brig. Gen., N. A."[60]

"It was obvious that the removal of material from two large cuts would determine the time of completion of the yard and depot, these being the 30,000 cu. yds. of rock and 15,000 to 20,000 cu. yds. of earth that had to be removed by hand-drill and wheelbarrow, instead of steam shovel, power drill equipment and standard-guage dump cars. Power equipment would have shortened the total time of completion by 30 to 40 per cent.
"Under the circumstances, immediate concentration of Regimental labor on the cutting alone and the late arrival of additional labor made it necessary to grade the depot yards with earth frozen to 15 inches deep, quite as difficult there as handling frozen earth in the cutting.
"The steam shovels ordered by cable from the Chief Engineer had not been shipped, and the German shovel already described did its first work in removing 20,000 cu. yds of earth during the following March. It was not until January that a new 70-ton Bucyrus shovel and a 2 8-ton Marion Caterpillar unit arrived from the Director General of Transport. The units were unfortunately incomplete, the shipment having been broken up and mixed, and the units were not useable at Is-sur-Tille. The rock-removal work on the site of the Base comprised hand stripping of the overlying earth and its removal in wheelbarrows, supplemented by a small quantity of Decauville railway equipment of 24-inch gauge that came later, but not in sufficient quantity to salvage the removed cubage for fill elsewhere.[61]
"The Regiment-made hand drills were used to spring the underlying rock with charges of chedite and black powder, and the Regiment was saddened by a premature explosion which killed two men and injured several others on the day before Christmas. Drag scrapers were obtained with a few teams of horses to aid in the stripping. The removed earth was later shoveled into standard gauge cars instead of being dumped in the Tille marshlands, that later had to be filled from borrow pits. The large cuts represented very heavy work. The warehouse excavation presented difficulties similar to those at the cuts.
"Trackage in the yards was depressed to bring the car floors level with the warehouse floors. This meant balancing cutting with fill that was used to level and elevate the warehouse floor concerned. [62]

November 20, 1917


"The first-ever mass attack by tanks occurs as the British 3rd Army rolls 381 tanks accompanied by six infantry divisions in a coordinated tank-infantry-artillery attack of German trenches near Cambrai, France, an important rail center. The attack targets a 6-mile-wide portion of the Front and by the end of the first day appears to be a spectacular success with five miles gained and two Germans divisions wrecked. The news is celebrated by the ringing of church bells in England, for the first time since 1914. However, similar to past offensives, the opportunity to exploit first-day gains is missed, followed by the arrival of heavy German reinforcements and an effective counter-attack in which the Germans take back most of the ground they lost.[63]


Captain Weeks, some time before Thanksgiving Day, went as far south as Lyon and corralled turkeys on the highways and byways for the Thanksgiving Day meal at Camp Williams. When the turkeys were unloaded in camp they looked bad, and even after being dressed seemed a bit off color, but the meal proved to be a "blinger."[64]
On Thanksgiving Day an excellent dinner of turkey and the other trimmings usual at home was served the men. The same magic was also exerted on Christmas Day, when a similar special meal was served and highly appreciated. Following is a menu of the Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike the usual Table-de-Hote dinner, where a choice is offered in meat, vegetable, dessert, etc., the mess sergeant expected every man to do his duty and eat the whole bill of fare from soup to nuts.[65]
"Thanksgiving and Christmas really gave the boys in the Company kitchen an opportunity to display their culinary skill. The meals on these two occasions will long be remembered, but the old moniker applied to Mess Sergeant Shelton, "Cold tomatoes and hard boiled potatoes," will never be eradicated. While the men on the job had improper tools and equipment, the men who worked in the Company Mess had still greater difficulties. The latrine rumor had it that the only way one could consistently apply himself around the kitchen was to partake of such stimulants as lemon and vanilla extracts. Evidently, this too had its effects for there was considerable turnover in the kitchen personnel. The first Company Mess Sergeant was Joseph Petric and he selected as his aides John Lee, Thomas Peacock, Dinty Moore, and Leo Whalen. About mid-winter Sergeant Petrie, due to his knowledge of French, was relieved of his duties as Mess Sergeant and assigned to Headquarters as an interpreter. He was replaced by Sergeant Frank Shelton, who like a new broom began to clean house, and soon there was a new group of hash hounds dishing it out. Harry Goodheart, John Vitton, Edward Matson, and Charles Gibbs. This quartette enabled Shelton to live up to his name for about six months and then found their way back to the Bull Gang along with the rest of the Company.[67]

Christmas 1917

"With the coming of the first Christmas in France, it was felt that it would be a good thing to give the kids in the neighborhood a Christmas treat. By popular subscription, beaucoup Francs were raised in the officers' mess, and Secretary Owen went to Paris and hired a Santa Claus outfit and purchased candy, stockings, caps, and sweaters for about 300 children, mostly the kids of the poor Poilu who were fighting at the front. The news spread quickly all over the district that there would be a feast and on Christmas day the old Hut was packed to the roof by the noisiest bunch of kids ever seen. All the mayors of the small cantonments in the district were on hand and also Colonel Neville, the French Officer in command of the district. Every little mayor insisted on giving a speech and everyone finished his oration by saying, "Vive L'Amerique." The closing speaker was the Colonel himself. Once more Owen was on the spot. He had to thank these dignitaries in his poor French for their eulogies of les braves Americains, so he thought he had better do it up brown, so he thanked them on behalf of President Wilson, General Pershing, Colonel Burgess, and all the other distinguished Americans he could think of, and then not to be outdone, he finished on a high note by saying, "Vive La France." A big revolving Christmas tree was arranged by Cap Lewis and Lieut. Williamson, who was no mean slinger of French, did the Santa Claus act. To many in the old 16th Engineers, that was the finest Christmas of their lives and it helped to forget for a while the rich, red mud of the old advance base.[68]
As more American troops began to arrive in France the project at Is-sur-Tille found work for them to do and the new year found contingents of the 9th Infantry, 32nd Division, and several labor battalions working under the direction of the 16th. As these men arrived, the men of the Company were placed in charge acting as foremen and superintendents. The railroad yards and the storage sheds were now receiving and disbursing ammunition and supplies. These new activities required men of railroad experience and the switch and engine crews soon found Patrick Smith, Curtis Lawrence and Frank Carmichael back of the throttle with Carl Carlson, Frank Breeckner, Thomas Emery and Glenn Bowers as switchmen. The dispatching in the yard office was handled by Carl Hume, Russell Wilcox and Leland Paul.[69] From time to time the duties at Headquarters became greater and the personnel was increased by detailing men from the various companies. F Company sent such men as William H. Pirtle, Harvey Jette, Russell Ryan, Lloyd Odgen, all acting as motorcycle messengers. Jette, due to his knowledge of French, was assigned to Major Robertson as interpreter and accompanied the Major when he was given command of the 21st Railway Engineers.[70]
"When one speaks of Is-sur-Tille he always refers to the huge rock cut, but the big yards, consisting of some fifty miles of siding and spur tracks, required a vast amount of ballast, which was secured from two large pits along the Tille River. To this project F Company provided the usual quota of brains and muscle. It was here that Sergeant Frandz Hillock established a private rendezvous for wayward and delinquent officers. As the pits were located a considerable distance from the camp, the Sergeant conceived the idea of setting up a private bunk house for himself and a selected few, and after considerable persuasion he convinced Capt. Wenzell that it was a necessity and would expedite the delivery of gravel. When it was completed and furnished with all the necessary comforts such as a few good bunks and a Sibley stove, the Sergeant found much to his disappointment that he had defeated his own purpose and instead of enjoying the luxuries of life as he had anticipated, he was running a private hotel for officers. The gravel ballast pits were operated by two crews working day and night with Thomas McCauley and Franz Hillock in charge. The working crew consisted of George Mitchell, Frank Breeza, Gustaf Bossuyt, Ralph Laurence, Butler Sparks, George Mathews, John Kirk, James Jenson, Earl O'Donnell, Ralph Hambly, John Wasilus, Earl Neuer, Charles Murtha, Andrew Creswick, Charles Brauch, Joseph Frank, Earl Larimer, Howard Kennedy and John Swanson, better known as "O! Be Joyful."[71]
"With the approach of spring came word of the great German drive on the English Front and word soon spread that the Regiment would be sent to the Front. This was good news; the Regiment was relieved of its duties in the yards and warehouses. The men were issued rifles, gas masks and ammunition, and drilling started in earnest. On April 5, the Company along with the rest of the Regiment was loaded into box cars, 8 chevaux and 40 hommes (8 horses and 40 men) capacity, and started for somewhere in sunny France. On the 7th they arrived at Savy-Berlette, a portion of the British Front lying just south of Amiens.[72]
"He (Sam) also had charge of the operation of train service at this depot during construction and of the train service in connection with the movement of freight in and out of the depot. He continued on this duty until the 15th of March at which time he was ordered to report to Director, Light Railways & Roads in Paris. [73][74][75]

Horses and Mules

"One of the most harassed men in the 16th was Leo Cobb, the Master Stable Sergeant, who had the patience of Job attending to the many details required of him and his corral gang while mules and horses, some that understood neither French nor English, were used by officers and buck privates for sightseeing or for such as wheelscraper work. But Leo knew his animals and did some excellent work for the 16th, with some 500 animals in charge at times, including the best Percherons and Clydesdales obtainable."[76]

The Warehouse Fire

"Regimental trucks hauled supplies from Nevers, Bourges and Gievres and thus expedited shipments as well as relieved rail congestion in our own yards. However, many carload lots were dumped into the Regimental warehouse and herewith are listed, from Jerry Petty's "warehouse unloadings," some of the goods that came to us in carload lots: Hay, straw, oats, potatoes, cabbage, bran, brick, sand, cement, bolts, rail, lumber, wire, oil, kerosene, gasoline, shoes, clothing, spikes, dynamite, roofing paper, firewood, rations, lime, boats, wagons, ranges, glass, putty, push-cars, motor cars, barracks, coal, hip boots, gloves, stove pipe, harness, Christmas packages, second class mail, Y.M.C.A. supplies, Red Cross supplies, rifles, ammunition, ammunition carts, mules, steam shovels, oil skins, water wagons, wheelbarrows, shovels, picks, overshoes, medical supplies and even anti-aircraft guns.
"On the 26th of February, the large timber and thatched roofed Q. M. warehouse suddenly took fire at noon and in a very few minutes, the entire building and its contents were a total loss. Even the fire-fighting apparatus, some several big pieces, were consumed. The conflagration apparently started at the lower end of the warehouse in the locality of the oil-burning engine which ran a machine shop. The men, just coming up the hill from the cut for noon mess, were able to salvage 160 drums of gasoline which were lined up close to the warehouse at the end opposite which the fire started. Etzel ran into the building and emerged with a "prize" box containing pistols while Barkley, in the excitement, did some fast work tossing out fire-extinguishers (to be saved for the next fire). With the fire went the entire Q. M. office, the barracks and the personal belongings of the supply detail. The fire drew the natives from many miles as smoke was very thick and heavy while the fire raged. 'Twas quite a sight the next day to see the French civilians salvaging canned bacon from the warm embers. Russ Yates managed to salvage several drawing sets, one of which he still uses.[77]
"The 16th men returned from their first leave at Aix-les-Bains on March 24th (1918). Hopes for a bit of action were raised when rumors went through the outfit that we were going to the Front. On Good Friday, the 29th, we were issued our nice new "Easter Hats," steel helmets, and with gas-masks having been issued, drills were plentiful in the use of these new implements of war[78]

Wallace J. Howells recalled:

"My assignment to the Yard Office at Is-sur-Tille was just beginning to be of great interest when I had to go to the hospital. There I remained until Sam Robertson left the Sixteenth Engineers and went to the Department of Light Railways. There he put through a transfer to take me to G. H. Q. at Chaumont. [79]
"The correspondence between Major Robertson and myself had been such that the matter could not have been printed in the "Stars and Stripes." However, it did the work, for on my arrival at Chaumont I was presented to Generals Jadwin and McKinstry by Lieutenant Colonel Robertson who stated, "This is Howells from the 16th Engineers, the lad I was telling you gentlemen about. He would rather be in the field than be peddling pots around a hospital."
"Early in my association with the Colonel, I recall him writing a rather caustic letter to the Commander-in-Chief of the A. E. F., asking if it was against the rules to make officers out of such men as were in the 16th Engineers and the other volunteer regiments. The Colonel's friend, General Bullard, who later was Commander of the Second Army, called up Colonel Robertson, advising him against such caustic expressions when writing to the Commander-in-Chief of the A. E. F." [80]
Major Robertson had left us to command the Twenty-first Light Railway Engineers a few days before we departed from Is- sur-Tille. Jette, our interpreter, and Richard Russell, who took the Major's red horse up the line, accompanied the Major for the rest of the war. Later, Major Robertson was made Superintendent of Construction of Light Railways in the First Army.[81]

Attached to the British First, Third and Fourth Armies, the Sixteenth was scattered while constructing both narrow and standard gauge track.

Normally, French law and legal procedure relative to railway construction is extremely intricate and years are required to reach the point of laying track along a new right-of-way. The War cast these obstacles to the wind, and the problem was one of laying track where necessary without regard to local objections. The Line of Supply to Is-sur-Tille, then, from St. Nazaire, and two or three other ports assigned to the American Expeditionary Force, ran on these joined-up divisions of several railways from St. Nazaire itself via Angers, Tours, Bourges, Nevers, Lyon, Chalon-sur-Sacne and Dijon to the Advanced Base. Owing to the scarcity of power and rolling stock on the French systems, abnormally loaded with traffic, American locomotives and rolling stock were constructed and sent across, the locomotives carrying the characteristic "tampons" or buffers, and French couplers.

Plans were in hand for making such trackage improvements on the Line of Supply as were desirable, but among them notably a cut-off to avoid the Nevers congestion and a bridge and viaduct across the Loire and Paris-Marseille rails. These would isolate the American traffic from the French movements of troop trains and war supplies north into Paris.

Engine terminals were needed at division points. Brest, northernmost assigned American port, was particularly convenient for troop debarkment, and had the advantage that it was on railway main track which led directly to Paris and thence East to the American Sector, presenting a somewhat different aspect from the heavy freight and munitions that moved best via St. Nazaire and the more southerly assigned ports.

Lys, France- 27 April 1918

"Ludendorff still hoped to destroy the hard-hit British Army before it had a chance to recover from the effects of the Somme drive. This was the purpose of a new German attack launched on 9 April 1918 on a narrow front along the Lys River in Flanders. The Germans committed 46 divisions to the assault, and, using Hutier attacks once again, quickly scored a breakthrough. The British situation was desperate for some days. Haig issued his famous "backs to the wall" order and appealed to Foch for reinforcements. But the Allied Supreme Commander, convinced that the British could hold their line, refused to commit reserves he was building up in anticipation of the day when the Allies would again be able to seize the initiative. Foch's judgment proved to be correct, and Ludendorff called off the offensive on 29 April. Since 21 March the Germans had suffered some 350,000 casualties without having attained any vital objectives; in the same period British casualties numbered about 305,000. About 500 Americans participated in the campaign, including troops of the 16th Engineers, 28th Aero Squadron, and 1st Gas Regiment.[82]


Light Railways as Related to Field Operations

by C. S. Elliot

"The entry of the United States into the European War introduced a new phase of warfare to America's fighting men: That of stationary or trench warfare. Not only was it necessary to adopt new military tactics but means of transportation had to be provided which were best suited to the conditions as then existed. The increase in number and size of artillery pieces, entailing vast expenditures of ammunition, had greatly increased transportation problems in the combat area. Supplies were hauled from supply depots, far in the rear, by standard gauge railways to railheads comparatively near the front, but situated usually beyond the range of field artillery fire. There were several reasons, which are doubtless obvious, why standard gauge railways were not operated in the combat area for the distribution of supplies. They registered strongly on aerial photographs and were more or less subject to direct observation, and any signs of activity often resulted in shelling of the lines ; and too, unless numerous branches were provided, they could serve directly only a small portion of the sector. Where operations were being conducted in a sector some distance from existing railways, extensions were expensive to build with comparatively heavy construction involving considerable time and labor. Standard Gauge Railroads were employed at different times (mostly during drives) in the combat area by heavy marine artillery mounted on specially built carer trucks.

The Standard Gauge Railheads being established outside the zone of field artillery fire, transportation was provided for supplies to battery positions and to advance ration and supply dumps by means of animal-drawn vehicles, trucks, or light railways as circumstances required.

From the advance dumps, supplies were hauled into the front line by cars or light tramways. Trucks, however, and to a lesser degree wagon, were largely dependent upon good roads and if none existed within the theatre of operations and conditions warranted, they had to be built which in turn required an enormous expenditure of time, labor and material.

At least a partial solution for the then existing advance transportation requirements was found to be in the development of light or combat railways. Of light construction, 60 Centimeter Gauge (23% inches), to a great extent sectional track, assembled before taking to the front, with steel ties and rails 16 to 25 pounds per yard, the light railways, following the contours, permitted great rapidity of construction without heavy cuts and fills they were less susceptible of enemy observation; if necessity demanded, they could be laid along the sides of the public highways ; they permitted of construction even into the front line trenches as tramways operated by animal traction or by hand (push cars).

"Light Railways came into general use during the Japanese-Russian War in Manchuria. The equipment was of French construction and animal traction was mostly employed. The maximum capacity of a railroad line, as then operated, was about 600 tons daily."("Engineers Field Manual.") " The French long before the present war, had built light rail- ways, or "voies de soixantes" as they called them, from the standard gauge railheads to their heavy battery position- in and around such fortified towns as Verdun and Toul, for the transportation of ammunition and supplies. These light railways formed a nucleus around which during the war a vast network of light railways systems, varying in size and development, were built, paralleling in a general way practically the entire front. When the United States entered the war. the Director General of Transportation, realizing the importance of this means of transportation, organized a special department, "The Department of Light Railways," to provide for the construction, operation and maintenance of these lines of communication.

A special railroad unit, the 21st Engineers (L.R.) was organized at Rockford, Illinois, to carry out this work. The sector northwest of Toul was selected as the scene of operations, and gradually the French constructed and operated lines in that vicinity were taken over and new lines were constructed in accordance with general plans formulated for future field operations. The light railways of the 21st were more and more closely coordinated with the military highways under the 23rd Engineers by consolidation of the two departments into the "Department of Light Railways and Roads" under the direction of Colonel Peek.

Mr. Robert K. Tomlin, writing for the "Engineering News-Record" (March 1918), described the situation at that time as follows: "Early in the war it was found that to undertake the supply of the front lines with motor trucks required such a great number of them that the highways were continually congested. It was found too, that this excessive motor traffic soon wore the road clown to such an extent that the greater part of the motor trucks were required to repair the damage caused by their own traffic. The light railways were developed to overcome these difficulties, and they have been so successful that it is possible now to keep the highways in repair and to devote them entirely to the use of fast-moving automobiles, motorcycles and motor trucks. In short, heavy and bulky traffic is moved on the railways; light and fast traffic on the highways."

The roads in the Toul Sector were in very poor condition, being too narrow and poorly maintained and thousands of tons of crushed rock was required to place the roads in first class condition. Stone quarries were opened up in a number of suitable locations on the line by detachments from the 28th Engineers. Rock trains were placed in service hauling stone to spurs near the road sites, from whence it was distributed by motor trucks. A variety of service was performed for divisional troops in greater and greater volume as time went on.

When the American First Army was formed, the 21st was assigned to that organization with supervision over all light railways in the First Army Area, assisted by other railway regiments and a number of labor battalions. When the Lorraine front was taken over by the Second Army, the light railways in that area were placed under jurisdiction of the 12th Engineers, assisted by the 22nd Engineers and units of the Third and Fourth Battalions of the 21st, recently arrived from the United States. The original units of the 21st remained with the First Army, continuing light railway operations in the Argonne, constructing and rehabilitating light railways in the wake of the rapidly advancing troops.[83]

March 15, 1918

From Sam's Experience report- "Headquarters of the Department of Light Rail and Roads (D.L.R.&R,) was shortly thereafter moved to Chaumont, and after spending a few days there the writer reported to the C.O., 21st Engineers at Sorey in the Department of Meuse, and was assigned to duty as Superintendent of Construction of Light Railways, under the direction of Colonel E. D. Peek of the 21st Engineers[84] until about the 15th of April when he was ordered to Abainville,[85] Department of the Meuse as Superintendent of Construction, to take charge of the construction of the Light Rail Shops."[86]

Abainville April 1st, 1918


"Maj. Gen. W. C. Langfitt was appointed Chief of Utilities March 10, 1918. Arriving in France as colonel of the 13th Engineers August 17, 1917, he was relieved of his command on the 21st, and as brigadier general served as first chief of staff, headquarters line of communication, from August 29 to September 28, 1917. From the latter date until his appointment as chief of utilities Gen. Langfitt (major general after Feb. 8, 1918) served simultaneously as manager of light railways under the director general of transportation and commanding general of the American troops with the British expeditionary forces.
"As originally authorized the service of utilities included the transportation department, the motor-transport service, forestry service, and lumber and tie production and all construction under the commanding general service of supply.
"Two of the four original divisions of the service of utilities were, in the reorganization of July 11, 1918, again formed into separate staff departments. These were the transportation department and the motor-transport service, with which the Engineer Department was therefore no longer concerned, except that all work of construction for both these departments, including docks, warehouses, railroads, yards, shops, motor parks, motor repair shops, etc., was done by the Engineers. These two services are therefore not further discussed. [87]


"To the department of construction and forestry the chief of utilities confided all construction and all lumber production in the service of supply. In personnel and the assignment of duties thereto the new utilities department of construction and forestry consisted of the former office of the chief engineer line of communication.
"Under Gen. Patrick, as director, the department of construction and forestry operated with five sections, as follows :
  • (1) Forestry section, Col. J. A. Woodruff, chief.
  • (2) Plant construction section, Maj. H. L. Van Zile, chief.
  • (3) Hospitalization section, Capt. R. M. Coomer, chief.
  • (4) Warehouse and barrack construction section, Capt. George Sykes, chief.
  • (5) Water supply section, Capt. T. H. Wiggin, chief.
"Gen. Patrick, having been appointed chief of air service, was relieved as director of construction and forestry by Gen. Jadwin on May 16, 1918. Gen. Jadwin reorganized his department, which form it maintained to the end of this period, as follows :
  • Brig. Gen. Edgar Jadwin, director of construction and forestry.
  • Col. J. A. Woodruff, deputy director.
  • Lieut. Col. E. A. Gibbs, chief of general construction section.
  • Lieut. Col. J. H. Graham, chief of railroads and docks section.
  • Lieut. Col. W. B. Greeley, chief of forestry section.
  • Maj. H. W. Gregory, chief of administration section.


"Under the director of construction and forestry, the section engineer officer of each territorial section of the Service of Supply was in direct charge of all construction therein. In all, there were nine territorial sections in France and one in England.
"Forestry operations in the field were directed by forestry district commanders under the chief of the forestry section, in turn under the deputy director of construction and forestry.


"During the period March 12 to July 11, 1918, the construction forces under direction of the director of construction and forestry increased from 31,000 to 75,000, including 39,000 Engineer and other troops, 13,000 forestry Engineer troops, 21,000 civilians, and 2,000 prisoners of war. Even with this force the labor was far below requirements. [88]


"Prior to the creation of the service of utilities the three American light railway regiments — the 11th, 12th, and 14th Engineers — had been operating with the British under command of Gen. Langfitt. Also, Gen. Langfitt was manager of light railways; that is, director of the light railway division of the transportation department. On March 19, 1918, as chief of utilities, Gen. Langfitt created, with Brig. Gen. Edgar Jadwin as director, the utilities department of light railways and roads by combining the former light railways division and the former roads division of the transportation department. The department of light railways and roads was originally made responsible for the construction, equipment, maintenance, and operation of all narrow-gauge railways in advance of the normal gauge railheads and for the construction and maintenance of all roads in American-occupied territory, together with the quarrying of material therefor. However, the department was relieved of the greater part of that responsibility within the first two months of its existence. After April 1, 1918, all road and quarry duties in the base and intermediate sections, Service of Supply, were discharged by the department of construction and forestry ; after April 12, 1918, all light railway, road, and quarry work in the Army zone was carried on under tactical command, but with departmental technical supervision; after May 7, 1918, all road and quarry work in the advance section, Service of Supply, was carried on by the department of construction and forestry, under technical supervision of the department of light railways and roads. In light railway and road operations in areas under various tactical commands the department maintained technical supervision through officers detailed to the staffs of the chief engineers of those commands. In the advance section, Service of Supply, the section engineer, department of construction and forestry, was made engineer, light railways and roads, for the section, and technical supervision passed through him.
"The function of the department of light railways and roads after May 7, 1918, therefore became primarily that of technical supervision and of estimating and making provision for requirements in trained personnel and in construction and operation equipment.
"During the period, March 19 to July 11, 1918, the office of the director of the utilities, department of light railways and roads, had the following organization:
  • "Director: Brig. Gen. Edgar Jadwin until May 16, 1918, then Col. Herbert Deakyne.
  • Manager of light railways : Lieut. Col. A. T. Perkins.
  • Manager of roads : Lieut. Col. H. W. Hodge,
  • Chief Engineer: Maj. F. G. Jonah.
  • General superintendent of transportation: Maj. D. S. Brigham.
  • General superintendent of motive power: First Lieut. G. J. Richers.
  • General superintendent of construction : Maj. S. A. Robertson.
  • Supply officer: Lieut. C. R. Gamble until April 20, 1918, then
  • Capt, W. M. McKee. [89]

From Sam's Experience Report- "Headquarters of the Department of Light Rail and Roads (D.L.R.&R,) was shortly thereafter moved to Chaumont, and after spending a few days there the writer reported to the C.O., 21st Engineers at Sorey in the Department of Meuse, and was assigned to duty as Superintendent of Construction of Light Railways, under the direction of Colonel E. D. Peek of the 21st Engineers[90] until about the 15th of April when he was ordered to Abainville,[91] Department of the Meuse as Superintendent of Construction, to take charge of the construction of the Light Rail Shops."[92]"Since that time he (Sam) has been Commanding Officer and Superintendent of Construction of the Light Railway Central Shops. Abainville, Meuse, France"

The Abainville Shops

The light railway central shops and yards were constructed at Abainville (Meuse), a village of about two hundred inhabitants, forty kilometers south of St. Mihiel, for the purpose of assembling, storing and repairing light railway track, locomotives, tractors, cars, etc., for the American 60 cm. gauge railways, and the forwarding of the same from the standard gauge railhead up to the advance zone.

On April 9th Companies 12 and 13 of the First Motor Mechanics arrived at Abainville and on April 24th began breaking ground for the main track to the shops. On April 26th the first material was unloaded and May 1st witnessed the beginning of actual construction of the plant.

Work continued until June 1st. when the concentration of German troops on the St. Mihiel front caused a cessation of activities and all buildings which have been erected were mined, preparatory to their destruction in case of a German advance, and plans for moving the plant farther to the rear were under consideration. A detachment of men from the 1st Regiment, Motor Mechanics, however, continued assembling equipment during this period.

On July 27th construction and operation were resumed and continued without further interruption until November 11th. With the signing of the armistice practically all construction ceased. Operation thereafter consisted of running repairs only.

The plant, when construction ceased, covered approximately ninety acres, being made up of the following units:

A high duty pumping station on the bank of the Ornain River. a tributary of the Meuse, which comprised two motor-driven centrifugal pumps of 5,000 gallons per hour capacity, one for emergency use only. Water was pumped 8,500 feet through a pipe line to a concrete reservoir of 130,000 gallons capacity, constructed on the hillside above, from where water was distributed for general use throughout the plant. A drinking water plant consisting of twenty-two wells, with one three-plunger, five horsepower, motor driven pump raising water into a water tower of 20,000 capacity.

The power plant, housed in a steel building, 60 feet by 42 feet, consisted of three 300 horsepower horizontal water tubes, 200 pounds pressure, hand fired boilers erected two in a battery and one single, each boiler having a smoke stack eighty-five feet high, supplying steam for driving two 250 horsepower simple steam engines, directly connected to two 250 watt, 125 volt, direct current generators. The power was used for operating the various machines and to light the plant. Two 500 cubic feet capacity air compressors at 200 pounds pressing were steam driven. The exhaust steam from the engines was utilized in feed water heaters for the boilers. Live steam was used to heat the offices and quarters. The power plant was spanned twenty feet above the floor by a five-ton hand operated crane used in assembling and repairing the engines.

The shop superintendent's office, with a drafting room above, and store room, were housed in a steel building 150 by 42 feet with a wooden partition forty feet from the west end separating the offices and drafting room from the store room, which contained a complete supply of tools and material necessary for the repair and maintenance of the light railway equipment. An addition, 300 feet by 42 feet, of wooden frame and steel, was later added to the store room. The planing mills, carpenter and pattern shops were located in a wooden front and sheet steel building 250 feet by 42 feet. The machine and repair shops were contained in a building 200 feet by 42 feet by 21 feet, spanned for a length of 70 feet by a five-ton electric traveling crane. The car shop was a steel building, 175 feet by 42 feet, with three tracks for setting up gondola and box cars. Another track adjacent was used by a five-ton locomotive traveling crane for handling the trucks and the car frames. On the opposite side of the shop were located three 45 cubic feet, 100-pound pressure air compressors used to operate the riveting hammers. In what was termed the upper yard, the car bodies, tractors, locomotives, etc., were stored and finally assembled in the shops or along yard assembling tracks. In the lower yard the rails, ties, bolts, etc., were stored. There complete track sections five meters long, with steel ties attached, were assembled and stored ready for shipment to the front, and included not only straight sections, but also curved, switch and crossing sections. Two steam locomotive cranes, one five and one twenty ton, were used for unloading, handling and reloading material in the upper and lower yards. A total of 2,307 cars of all types were erected, exclusive of approximately 400 dumps, construction cars and speeders. The daily output about the time of the armistice was an average of thirty-two cars.

The erecting shop for assembling and repairing steam locomotives, a steel building, 42 feet by 200 feet by 28 feet, had two tracks, 3 feet 6 inches above the floor level the full length of the building, one on each side and one at the grade and with a pit through the center. The greatest number of locomotives assembled in any one day was nine, with a daily average of three for the period, the total number assembled being 194.

The gas tractor, tin, pipe and welding shops were housed in a steel building 200 feet by 42 feet by 28 feet, equipped with two 10-ton and one 5-ton electric traveling cranes. The greatest number of tractors assembled in any one was six, the daily average being two. A total of 121 fifty and sixty-three horsepower tractors were assembled. The smith and boiler shops were housed in a steel building 60 feet by 42 feet.

The oil house, a steel building, 45 feet by 42 feet, afforded storage for all oils, paints and waste. The roundhouse, a wooden frame and sheet iron building, 50 feet by 60 feet, with an office 12 feet by 12 feet, had three tracks running directly through the building, with two inspection pits, 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet.

The officers' quarters consisted of three adobe buildings, 175 feet by 50 feet, connected at the rear by two passages double open fireplace into a main assembly or reading room twenty-two rooms each. The center building divided by a double open fire place into a main assembly or reading room and a dining room with kitchen at the rear, completed these very comfortable quarters.

The housing facilities for the men comprised thirty-four Adrian barracks used as sleeping quarters and eleven used as mess halls, kitchens and company offices. The remainder of the camp consisted of a Salvation Army hut, three Y. M. C. A. huts, a commissary, three garages and a stable.

The first organization of the 21st, Company N, arrived at Abainville September 21, 1918, and it was followed shortly by the Third and Fourth Battalions and Company O. At the present time, April 1, 1919, the shops are being almost entirely operated by the men of Companies G, N and O, located at Abainville. [93]

  • June 16th- Nevers Cut-off

September 15, 1918

About the 15th of September he (Sam) was ordered to take part of his forces from the Light Railway Central Shops, to report to Engineer of Railroads and Roads of the First Army, and while on the duty constructed a link between the light rail railway lines in the Toul sector and those in the Argonne sector. This work was handled as vigorously as possible, and the writer as well as the men were commended by the Engineer of Railways and Roads of the First Army, and by the Chief Engineer American E. F., for this piece of work.[94][95]

"One of the best known Officers in the Light Railway organizations was Lieut. Colonel Sam Robertson. He was well known as a worker, but better for his stock of rich yankee humor. The following are a few illustrations :

While the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 21st Engineers were moving through Vigneulles[96] on their way from Sorcy to the Argonne front, the Germans made it pretty warm for them. The engines were carefully shrouded with canvas to hide the light. Smoking was forbidden and all train signals were given by means of whistles carried by the members of the crew. Tense excitement was prevalent among everyone, for the German trenches were a short distance away. Suddenly everyone was horrified to see coming jauntily along the track a brightly lighted lantern.

"Hey, you blanketey blank son of a blank, put out that blank light," yelled Sgt. Hack, of Co. D.
"Go to H — l," was the short and snappy reply.
"Maybe you don't know who I am, I'm Sgt. Hack ; put out that glim."
"Maybe you don't know who I am. I'm just Colonel Robertson, you go to H — l."

Of course, it was often necessary to have a light to see how the work was progressing, which necessarily had to be done at night so near enemy observation, but it did seem that the Colonel was courting death by carrying his lantern. Finally someone remonstrated with him.

"Colonel, aren't you just a little afraid that Fritz will take a shot at that light some night."
"Well, if he did he wouldn't hit it. I'm not long enough in one place."

One day he approached a detail working on the track, the Sergeant of which was standing apart with folded arms looking very much superior to those he had in charge.

"Who is the man in charge here," he inquired.
"I am, Sir," replied the Sergeant.
"Well, where in H — l is your shovel?" [97]

Before this work was finished he (Sam) was ordered to take charge of the construction of the standard gauge line from Aubreville Junction to Apremont-sur-Aire. And of the reconstruction of the line from Apremont-sur-Aire to Grandpre. This work was pushed with as much vigor as possible, considering the shortage of tools and equipment.[98] As the army advanced from Grandpre to Sedan, he following closely behind the advancing infantry, made the reconnaissance of the German stragetic railway line from Marq via St. Juvin to a point about 5 miles south of Sedan.[99]

October 2nd, 1918

On October 2nd Mayor Sam Robertson was promoted to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel, and placed in the command of the 22nd Engineers in addition to his other duties

October 16th, 1918

"Major Chevalier (11th Eng) was in responsible charge of standard gauge railway work in the 2nd Army area, while with advent of Lieut. Col. Sam. Robertson on the Aubreville-Varennes railway on Oct. 16 the actual direction of the work passed to him and the C.O. of the 11th Engrs. was consequently no longer necessary for that duty." [100]

October 3rd, 1918

About the 3rd of November Sam was ordered to repair this line and accomplished about 50% of the work (including the bridge over the Air River) from Marcq to Arecourt.

"Serving with the Department of Light Railways and on the staff of Colonel Sam Robertson, it was our pleasure at times to bump into small detachments of the old regiment, and while this

is a regimental history of the 16th Engineers, it is proper to include a few of the contacts we had with the outfit, even though I was serving with another group. I can remember Colonel Robertson coming into our quarters at Aubreville, where we had taken over the work of the 11th Engineers. The Colonel had just heard of the death of Bart Hinkley and was deeply touched. He had uppermost in his mind at all times the welfare of the 16th Engineers, regardless of where he might be. [101]

November 8, 1918

Orders were received about November 8th from the Chief Engineer first Army to abandon the repairs on this line, and to proceed to reconstruct the railway line from Tavannes tunnel east of Verdun to Conflans. Reconnaissance was made of portion of this line between Verdun and the German trenches on the morning of November 11th.

Colonel Harry Burgess, Commander of the 16th, writing in the "Military Engineer," tells the following story:

"I think it was on the ninth of November, near Brieulles, that I saw one of the companies marching back to its dugouts after seventy-two hours' continuous work on the railroad, very dirty and unkempt. Exactly opposite my car, this company passed a brand new field artillery regiment marching toward the enemy for the purpose of getting into action before the Armistice went into effect. Every man, animal, and vehicle were spick and span, and the artillerymen were quite gay at getting a chance to fire at least one shot before the war ended. One of their sergeants called out, as my rather disreputable looking company came by, 'What outfit is that?' The grave response from a file closer was 'Y. M. C. A. replacements.'"[102]Company B , 16th Engineers
"During the time this detail was with Col. Robertson it had been on three different projects. First at Dombasle where it worked a battalion of colored troops in three shifts night and day, and completed a yard two days ahead of the time Col. Robertson had specified. The detail then moved by truck to St. Juvin, where it remained until after the Armistice, salvaging enough material to repair three miles of track."[103]

At St. Juvin were a couple of Magdeburg flat cars, abandoned by the Germans. One of these was immediately fixed up for a cookshack and diner and the other into a bunk house for the detail. Plenty of lumber was available at a German dump at St. Juvin for sides, roof and bunks.

The detail was tipped off on the Armistice 16 hours before it occurred, by Col. Sam himself and a few days later an engine backed in and hauled the private coaches of the detail all one night, arriving at Verdun in the morning. Several of the wheels were flat and one could see the track through the floor-boards and everyone figured the cars were about ready for a trade-in. The next morning the yard-master released the cars and allowed them to be moved to the West End of the Tavannes Tunnel, where the detail lived in style for several weeks more repairing the track in the Tunnel and east of it as far as Eix. [1]

The presence of Sergt. Trout with the detail insured good rations at all times. Col. Sam Robertson often stopped by at mess time and the train crew from A Company — Figi, Davis and Roberson—that switched in material and operated over the reconstructed track, always seemed to show up at the Tunnel at mess time. The detail was glad to get back to the Company as by Thanksgiving time rumors were cropping up that the 16th was soon going home. [2]

Company B left by truck December 15, for Brieulles by way of Verdun, arriving the same day. The Company was quartered in German barracks while occupied in regrading and repairing the double track between Sedan and Verdun. While at this camp Christmas and New Year were celebrated [3]

November 11, 1918

November 12, 1918

Reconstruction was started on the morning of the 12th , and work was considerably delayed on this line until about the 16th of November on account of not being permitted to enter territory held by the Germans previous to the armistice.[104][105]

This reconstruction was finished the 26th of November and the 1st train run from Verdum to Conflans that same night.[106]

After finishing this work he was ordered to the Light Railway Central Shops..[107]

Nov 28, Thanksgiving Day;view=1up;seq=258

December 16th, 1918

History of the Fourteenth Engineers U.S. Army, from May, 1917 to May, 1919., Author: Robert Graham Henderson Publisher: Boston, Priv. Print., 1923.

After the Armistice the traffic began to flow the other way, the surplus light railway power and rolling stock all flowing into Abainville, together with large amounts of salvaged material. The general let-down in morale is well set forth in the general order given below, which seems to be worth preserving:
A. P. O. 703.
GENERAL ORDER - 16 December 1918.
No, 53
1. A malignant type of spring fever seems to have hit this project about four months ahead of schedule. I visited a number of officers' messes this morning and breakfast was still being served at 8.35 a.m., and possibly a little later. If the sergeants can run this project, the officers may as well be returned to the States. Work hours on this project will be from 7.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m., and from 12.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. This means for officers as well as for men. The officers must be on their work at 7.00 a.m. ready for business; this means field officers and office men as well as Second Lieutenants who are in charge of track maintenance forces.
2. On Sunday mornings at 7.30 there were not to exceed a half dozen men attending sick call. This morning at 8.00 a.m. there were over 25 or 30 men. Company commanders will see that a Commissioned Officer goes to sick call with the men of his company, and that no one goes on sick call unless he is sick. Men who are marked to stay in quarters will stay in quarters and get to bed. The Chief Medical Officer will arrange to have sick call finished at 6.50 a.m., so that the men who are market! tor duty will have ample time to arrive on the work with the balance of the men.
3. The departments of this project have become very expert in doing parade rest. In going over this work, the Commanding Officer observed in every department there are from 20% to 40% of the men idling around instead of working. The effectiveness of this project have dropped off from about 86% to 71%; this would break any business in the world. Officers must see that the labor and material of the Government are handled as they would handle it if they had to meet the payroll themselves every Saturday night. The number of kitchen police, waiters, strikers, orderlies, batmen, lackies, dog robbers, etc. must be cut down
4. In the future there will be only one officers' mess at this post, and that will be the one at the officers' barracks. Mess Officers running outside messes will have three days in which to arrange to consolidate the mess. This will not affect officers eating with companies. It is possible that the character of the food served at some of the smaller messes is better than at the general mess, but it is thought the efficiency of this project will be helped by the consolidation.
5. The following bugle calls will be observed by all officers:
First Call . . .5.30 A.M.
Mess ....6.00 A.M.
Fatigue...7.00 A.M.
Recall from Fatigue...I I.30 A.M.
Fatigue...I2.3O A.M.
Recall from Fatigue...4.OO P.M.
Provost Marshal will arrange for all calls to be sounded in Officers' quarters. Dinner will be at 11.35 a.m. and Supper at 6.00 p.m. Dining room will be closed at 6.30 a.m. and no one will be fed after that hour with the exception of Medical Officers attending sick calls. Officers and quarters will be cleaned up and ready for inspection at 6.50 a.m.
6. The DLR&R is charged with hauling salvage from the district operated by light railways, and assembling and repair of equipment at this point. If everybody works, this can be completed in sufficient time to allow all Light Railway Regiments to arrive in New York by St. Patrick's day, but the way we are working now we will not be able to arrive there before the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
7. In inspecting kitchens this morning, I noticed an extraordinary amount of food being put in the slop barrel. This must be reduced. Some kitchens are being run with five kitchen police, and others with nine and the kitchen in the cleanest and the best condition had the smallest number of men. What one officer can do, another can do and must do at once. The Provost Marshal will arrange with the officer in charge of officers' mess to have the guard wake up the help of the officers' mess in sufficient time to get them to work.
8. The C.O. does not blame anyone in particular for the lazy condition we have drifted into, Perhaps it is due to the steam heat, armistice or other causes. However that may be, it must be remedied at once.
9. Military drill will be discontinued until further notice with exception of guard mount.
Sam. A. Robertson,
Lieut. Colonel, Engineers, U.S.A.[108]
"The work of the regiment as a whole was conducted under the most depressing conditions and it was natural that everybody should long for home. The Fourteenth had been in France for a year and a half and had experienced a fair share of the war, and it is not surprising that they had little spirit to put into the work of cleaning up old battlefields. But the job had to be done and was done in the midst of that dreary, muddy desolation which was Northern France in winter. Leaves to the Riviera afforded some change and the Y.M.C.A. did its part by staging numerous entertainments. History of the Fourteenth Engineers U.S. Army, from May, 1917 to May, 1919., Author: Robert Graham Henderson Publisher: Boston, Priv. Print., 1923.
9.Since the armistice his time has been divided between the Light Railway Central Shops and the administration of his regiment, the 22nd Engineers, this being a five Battalion Regiment, one regiment being at the Light Railway Central Shops, two in the Argonne Sector on the maintenance of light railways, and the other two Battalions being on maintenance of light railways in the Second Army area.[109]


10.The writer is unable to report anything of a startling nature in his experiences as the work he has been engaged in (railway construction) is exactly what he has been doing all his life. It has been impossible to do as efficient work under conditions in the army as in civil life, on account of the great distance from the base of supplies and tools, and the scarcity of officers and non-commissioned officers experienced in railroad construction.
A great majority of the officers and men with whom the writer has been associated in his work in France have exhibited the greatest industry and zeal in the performance of their duty. One great satisfaction to the writer has been the high intelligence of the men he has worked in France; the standard of intelligence being many degrees higher than that of any men he has worked in his previous career


Under the provision of War Department general orders, the United States Liquidation Commission was created as the central agency to supervise and direct the disposition of European claims against the American Expeditionary Forces and of surplus property in Europe belonging to the United States. The commission was intended not to supersede but rather to supervise and direct activities of existing agencies in the American Expeditionary Forces which had been dis- charging, in whole or in part, duties relating to the disposal of war supplies. The Liquidation Commission arrived in France early in 1919 and entered upon the discharge of the above supervisory duties.

By authority contained in paragraph 8, Special Orders, No. 273, Headquarters Service of Supply, December 9, 1918, and paragraph 7, Special Orders, No. 24, Headquarters, Service of Supply, January 24, 1919, a board of officers consisting of Brig. Gen. Edgar Jadwin, Col. T. H. Jackson, Col. J. H. Graham, Maj. F. F. Senior, and Maj. A. E. McKennett had been appointed, with the duty of compiling and submitting estimates of costs of all buildings, warehouses, hospitals, barracks, manufacturing plants, track, piers — in fact, all classes of permanent or semipermanent projects completed or begun in the American Expeditionary Forces. The board's evaluation of all construction and installations to December 31, 1918, based on actual inventories, indicated a war cost of $165,661,445, and a normal peace-time cost of $81,543,857.[110]

On May 27, 1919, section commanders were directed by the commanding general, Service of Supply, acting on authority from the United States Liquidation Commission, to deliver to accredited representatives of the French Government excess movable supplies and war materials, other than the " installations " previously referred to, at. locations abandoned in the evacuation program and not included in a list of concentration points and other locations which accompanied the instructions as to procedure in the transfer of this property. [111]


Col. Sam A. Robertson departed Brest France on April 12th1919 onboard SS Great Northern, they arrived at Hobokan New Jersey on April 20th where he immediantly reported to Washington.

"The establishment of Fort Benning's light railway must be credited to the imagination and zeal of Colonel Sam Robertson, a fabled Texas railroader who had commanded the 22nd Engineers, Light Railway, in France. Dispatched to survey 13 Army posts for railways, he arrived at Camp Benning, his first stop, on April 23, 1919. His prompt report back to Washington recommended, as a first step, a 5.62-mile utility line to serve the target range, haul freight, and to service the sawmill and gravel pit. His hastily drawn plan called for 42 miles to serve future training areas. Robertson then continued his tour to other army posts, but his enthusiasm for the Benning project was strong. He enlisted the help of Major George Lewis, who served in France with the 16th Engineers; Lewis agreed to carry out Robertson's plan at Benning. Per Robertson's request, two Davenport locomotives, 16 flat cars, and three miles of track and equipment were shipped to Fort Benning, arriving on May 27, 1919. By June Major Lewis' men had laid one mile of track and had the sawmill cutting railroad ties. As a result of Robertson's survey and the investigations of others, the Chief of Engineers decided that light railways would be installed at 19 wide-spread army posts, with trackage totaling 340 miles. Washington determined that the plan was too ambitious! In April 1920, it was decided that Camp Benning would become a permanent installation (becoming Fort Benning) and would maintain its railway. All other installation railways were disapproved."[112]

Brownsville Herald June 8th, 1919

Engineer Back in Old Haunts, Refuses to Discuss War or Railroad Project.
Colonel Sam Robertson, U. S. A.. better known in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for thirteen years as plain Sam Robertson was Brownsville Saturday.
Colonel Robertson, a pioneer irrigation engineer of the Valley, who with the Heywoods made San Benito and the San Benito irrigated district is still working on improvements for the Valley, but now his work is for the United States government. For the past week he has been investigating terrain and other conditions along the line of the proposed rail extension from Sam Fordyce to the army post at Rio Grande City, Fort Ringgold. He has finished and will submit his report to the chief of engineers of the army at Washington under whose direction he is working. He refused to say what his report will be which is an army tradition.
Sunday after a short time at home at San Benito with his family he will leave for Fort Clark, where he is to do further work. After that, he will go to San Antonio, where he expects to be released from the service.
Asked whether he was coming back to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where he spent so long in constructive work building up the country, he said he did not know he thought not. After his, discharge from the service he expects to go into Mexico to investigate some properties, the holdings of French capitalists with whom he became acquainted while in France. The holdings run into real territory, agricultural, forest and mineral lands, and the French owners want to know just what they have left after eight years of revolution and counter-revolution in the republic.
Colonel Robertson wears three gold service stripes, and the big black "A" of the First Army, with the red engineers' castle under the crossbar of the "A." He left the A.E.F. as commanding officer of the 22nd (Railway) Engineers, attached to the First Army. His regiment is still overseas. Like all A.E.F. veterans who took a real part in the war, Colonel Robertson takes his honors modestly. He had nothing to say about the war or his part in it. "Too many men came back ahead of me. Told the whole story. Nobody wants to know what I did. Didn't do half as much as a lot of them anyway." said the colonel gruffly in reply to the stock question. [113]


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  93. by Army. Corps of engineers. 21st regt.
  94. Historical report of the chief engineer, including all operations
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  98. History of the Sixteenth engineers (Railway) Page 221
  99. Historical report of the chief engineer, including all operations
  100. [;view=2up;seq=314 History of the Eleventh engineers, United States army ... February 3, 1917, to May 8, 1919. Author:Boughton, Van Tuyl.]page 281
  102. The History of the 16th Engineers American expeditionary forces 1917-1919 page 333
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  105. Historical report of the chief engineer, including all operations
  106. Occasional Papers, Engineer School, United States Army, Volume 62; Volumes 64-70
  107. History of the Sixteenth engineers (Railway) page 232
  108. History of the Fourteenth Engineers U.S. Army, from May, 1917 to May, 1919., Author: Robert Graham Henderson Publisher: Boston, Priv. Print., 1923.
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  113. Brownsville Herald 8th 1919

For further research:=

Stories 14-18: Lieutenant Cullard's manuscript

The 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France during World War I and the Death of Uncle John, by Richard Ammon

Jeff Bockman's Connecting with Grandfather Fougerolles is a commune in the Haute-Saône

Is-sur-Tille: A great reconstruction of historic camps 1914-1918 - Photos by Marianne Picoche



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